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Oh Maudie… Story Of A Life

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Maud Lewis painter

Maud’s bent and twisted body – aged from a physically taxing lifetime –  drew in and, softly, expelled its final breath… at last she drifted away in peaceful silence.

I wanted to reach up and hug her comfortingly, consolingly, in my arms.

You see, some smiles are too rare, too precious, to be drained away like a diamond floating softly to the ocean depths, forever lost to this world.

MAUDIE… the movie. I think it could have been called A Beautiful Life.

I’m a bit of a cinephile… or probably more accurately, I’m a popcornophile who takes shameless advantage of moviegoing as an excuse for a salted-maize addiction.

The storylines and sense of transport I feel within a movie theatre are wondrously dreamlike. There’s an ambience of significance and awe in a darkened theatre that I don’t appreciate as fully when I watch films on the home screen.

What’s on this weekend?, I’d say to one of my young buddies.

In what seemed only a few moments ago, I relished taking the Main West bus to uptown Hamilton with one of my boyhood friends like Renato or Jerome – we’d wolf back the scrumptious Cheeseburger Platter at the Arch Restaurant before ambling down King Street to the Capitol Theatre or Palace Theatre.

I’d plunk my 2 quarters down – earnings from my paper route – onto the counter of the outside front booth, and then it was the obligatory pass by the snack bar for some popcorn and a Kit Kat chocolate bar.

We’d sit in the balcony of the cavernous theatre with the ornately sculptured, curved ceiling, before the screen flashed to life like an early summer sunrise, and then, Bridge Over The River Kwai, or Bonnie and Clyde, or James Bond (the oh-so-sauve Sean Connery variety) began.

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The lights slowly dimmed, the curtain accordioned up to the ceiling.

The opening scene of Bonnie and Clyde began with the “click-click” Brownie camera sounds of the opening credits with black x white still photos of Faye Dunaway (Bonnie Parker) and Warren Beatty (Clyde Barrow) slowly fading away into murderous blood red.

To this day it remains my favourite opening montage to a movie ever. Talk about foreshadowing in the first breaths of a film.

As always, I’m in a constant state of cinematic awe over the writing and directing and acting abilities that can bring me so many real and imagined scenarios. I fall head-over-heels in disbelief at the spectacle, as if Santa really and truly does come down our chimney each Christmas.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there because I’m here today to ramble on about a flick that we saw this week in the local Movieplex: an understated, almost unheard of cinematic wonder called Maudie.

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If ever a movie was made that could grab you by the curmudgeon’s heart and squeeze tender, gentle smiles with its story of unconventional love, this one is it.

The camera leads us along the “small” life of Maud Lewis – a severely arthritic woman passing her life in the rural Nova Scotia backwaters – that had my heart twisted in tender tangles.

What sets Maud story apart from the everyday ordinary is her strong will and capacity for painting simple things in colourful Folk Art-style.

Slowly over the years, an appreciative audience for her simple outdoor nature art scenes grows. In the 1970’s, two of her paintings were ordered by the Nixon White House.

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Maud’s tale of dealing with her arduous physical infirmities and the cruelties of the ones who should love her most is filled with compassion and sentiment so heartbreaking and yet still uplifting. Beautiful, touching, but never falling into syrupy or maudlin.

The mixture of movie art with painting art is lovingly expanded by the aching, alluring Maritimes’ backdrop through the seasons of the year, through the seasons of living.

MAUDIE… An exquisite, small film of a graceful, small life, done in a beautiful fashion that, like a tide returning to the eastern shoreline, brings home for me once again the notion that not everyone needs to, or must live life on the grand stage.

Greatness arrives in many guises, some never seen to the outside world.

No. More important to me is the essence of Maud Lewis, the reminder, that the final sketch of our lives surely should be a verb, an activity… not a noun, a passive observation.

MAUDIE-Poster-

TRUE GRIT

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boxer-girl

Over and over and over I played the same 4 bars.

No, not my local Peacock’s Perch, Blue Mule, Barking Parrot, or the Copper Mug. I’m talking music and guitar practice.

I’ve been doing this for almost a week now.

da capo: The same 4 bars repeated over and over on the guitar from the beautiful song Angelina by Tommy Emmanuelle. The song’s intricate-contorted-finger movements and timing have pushed me beyond my level of comfort and ability. My bee-sting-callused fingertips keep squawking at me to give up.

This is good. This is great actually.

This is grit.

I’m working on grittiness. Beethoven was gritty. Edison was gritty. Martin Luther King Jr. was gritty. Lives filled with roadblocks and challenges.

With each passing year I admire and respect the grittiest souls amongst us more and more.  If you’re a gritty person (I’ll define you a bit more in a minute if you’re not sure), I am a drooling fan of yours.

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Along this line of thinking, I’m reading a popular book right now entitled, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. My mind likes to have both a non-fiction as well as a fiction book running simultaneously (my current fiction book is titled Shantaram)

Duckworth has climbed over Malcolm Gladwell’s back, building on his theme in Outliers, another favourite book of mine that popularized the 10,000-Hour Rule.

Gladwell recounts how the Beatles performed live in Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964 before attaining huge fame, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time.

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Bill Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.

I’ve inhabited a relatively lazy life. 10,000 hours was craziness to me. It always seemed like too much work, too much effort. I smugly rationalized my attitude, tricking myself by believing, “Work Smart, not Hard”. 

Slipping into the time travel machine that is my mind, I recall in my early, mainly school-bound years, I was blessed/cursed with a mind that could get by on cruise mode.

One quick review of my Shakespearean Coles Notes and I could score 80% on the English Lit test, so why go bat-crap all-Jeopardy-perfect crazy for 90 or 100%. Hard work was for suckers, right? I felt a sense of righteous superiority.

I was a mini Donald Trump sans comb-over or whatever that thing is that sits on top of his head. Yup, scary.

Hell, even Miss Putns, my Grade 2 teacher at Glen Echo School, commented in my report card that, “Larry needs to work on his superiority attitude.

Grade 2!

Humility didn’t come any easier to me than grittiness.

Wikipedia defines grit as:

“perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Those individuals who are deemed more successful and influential than their contemporary counterparts typically possess traits above and beyond that of normal ability. While ability is still critically important, these individuals also possess “zeal” and “persistence of motive and effort.” Grit is conceptualized as a stable trait that does not require immediate positive feedback. Individuals high in grit are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods despite experiences with failure and adversity. Their passion and commitment towards the long-term objective is the overriding factor that provides the stamina required to “stay the course” amid challenges and set-backs.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance … great alliteration for a book title, and I love the concept, the idea of passion. But the perseverance part has been my Waterloo.

I’ve embraced passion like sweet chocolate candy to my soul.

When I feel enthusiastic about something: music, renovation projects, gardening, exercise, party planning… I dive in with childlike zeal and fervour. I soar through the clouds in a glider on a sunny updraft. The endorphins drive me forward like a Tesla, no driver needed, the energy is organic and unforced.

And if the project or object of my zeal is short-term, well, I know I can pull off amazing stuff (oops, there’s that shitty righteous superiority rising to the surface once more!).

Passion I possess.

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Running Passion…

But if the undertaking grows long-winded or too tough, creeping too far out of my comfort zone, I’ve generally felt an inner weariness that infects my enthusiasm like a nasty virus. I feel my gusto and energy drain away back to the ocean in low ebb.

I’ve eaten all the pizza my appetite can handle, and I leave the less desirable crusts behind for the scavengers to finish up. Another unfinished, another incomplete project.

I’m a big boy now and I wear big boy pants.

I’ve seen enough evidence in my years to know that those who succeed in their worthwhile efforts are often not the smartest, the brightest, the most gifted. It’s more about the determination, the perseverance, the grit.

I know what I have to do. How about you?

Chewing away at my lack of perseverance and growing my grit is a project, a goal. I like goals. Always have.

My new attitude going forward is “Work Smart AND Work Hard”.

Those of you who have grit learned that lesson long before I did. Thank you for your patience waiting for me to catch up.

By the way? Those 4 bars of beautifully harmonic Angelina?

They sound FANTASTIC… now… only 106 more bars to go!

GRIT!

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Passion AND Grit…

 

 

 

 

The New Frontier… I Want A World…

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With apologies to Dickens, it’s… A Tale of Two Issues.

I’m repelled by Donald Trump – it’s as if some midnight jokester set a steamy bag of dog shit on my front doorstep – but dammit…

… That A-hole is making me money.

On paper, at least.

It irks me that I rub my hands together joyously in egocentric financial glee.

It’s a conundrum. I feel guilty.

It’s two-faced that I snort happily at the trough of increased wealth as my investments benefit, based almost solely on the market-swelling narcissistic tweets and ramblings of a Bah Humbug man, a man who points and yells out to adoring white-skinned (and white-hooded!) crowds spreading virulent hatred of immigrants and women and parents of dead soldiers.

Since Trump’s election to President last month, my stock holdings have soared skyward like an Olympic pole-vaulter that has finally discovered the tricky technique of gliding over the high bar.

Sure, I did my homework and carefully selected the stocks – the Apples and Aflacs, the L Brands and Royal Banks and 20 others. I chopped the vegetables and set out the spices for the monetary soup, but Trump mixed it together in the pot and magically cooked the soup to an unexpected, unnatural greatness… again, for the mainly white and wealthy.

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…………………

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

…………………

YES Virginia… we all have personal issues of hypocrisy and confusion that divide us internally. I wrestle and spar with my occult demons regularly.

You see, I want a world filled with leaders who respect and desire peace and accommodation and compassion for others.

…………………

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

…………………

I want a world where we hunger for everyone to do well, for all 7+ billion humans to have a standard of living that reflects a similar paycheque for similar work… in the affluent western world, we fret about women making the same wages as a man for the same work, and yet, we live in a world where we selfishly tolerate billions of men, women and children living in poverty despite working laboriously hard and very long hours.

…………………

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

…………………

I want a world where the air is comfortably breathable in Boston, Berlin, and Beijing; a world where fish aren’t thoughtlessly killed off by industrial toxins and oil spills, a world where animal habitat is as important as human housing.

…………………

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

…………………

I want a world where women are regarded with the same respect as men in every way, a world that doesn’t victimize and use girls as sexual chattel, prevent them from educating themselves, mere toys for the rich and famous to grab by the pussy.

…………………

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

…………………

I want a world where we can all enjoy the amazing richness of peace and wealth and understanding that a 21st century globe deserves.

Surely we’ve absorbed and learned countless lessons that millennia of missteps and hardships have taught us.

This is our new frontier.

We talk in glowing epithets of Christmas spirit, and births of new hope.

If the true Christmas spirit is what most of us truly long for… I hope… hope looking through my optimistic rose-coloured glasses… that we’ll continue to push and search and work towards a place where we gaze not only inwards, as I do with my investment portfolio – no Virginia, I’ll never be Mother Teresa or Ghandi or Mandela – but outwards too with a generous spirit and a desire of goodness for all.

My sugar-plum dreams are filled with a planet that cries out in unison…

Make The World Great For Everyone“…

… not only America… not only white men… not only Christians, Jews, Muslims, Bahá’ís, Hindus, Buddhists… an aspiration, an inspiration for better…

…………………

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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Don’t write what you know, write what fascinates you… and 21 more brilliant things I’ve Learned…

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22 Things I’ve Learned Since I Began Blogging…

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After writing 236 blog posts, I figure I’ve learned one or two things along this joyous journey, some about writing a blog and a few others about living a fuller life.

I’ll share a few of these with you and then you can add on the hundred or more that you figure I should have learned, right?

  1. Creativity isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. Treat your creative force as an action to be developed and actively teased into the open. The creative spark isn’t something that’s given to us like a Christmas gift, wrapped in neat bows and ribbons and cantookles and sneedles. One form of Boot Camp works the body muscle … another form involves the inner imagination muscle.
  2. Writer’s block is a fiction story. Persistence in writing something… anything… blasts away block walls like sugar infusions beat back the Marathon runner’s WALL. I’m a perpetual work in progress and really need to heed this lesson in my songwriting.
  3. I write about the fabric I know mostly, but I also try to write about stuff that is new to me so that I can learn while I write. Constantly learning anew gifts us deeper breaths and enthusiastic heartbeats.
  4. Polls cannot be relied on as truth. People lie and hide their occult souls from pollsters.
  5. We’ll never know the full capacity of our brain and its power to reason and formulate idea sex. There is no human mystery greater than the inner intricacy that lies between our ears (the second greatest mystery is the bewildering and seductive complexity that lies between our legs! We’ll never understand that one either)
  6. Beautiful music is a loving muse that brings forth beautifully elegant words in writing. Listening to music I love invites novel metaphors and descriptive adjectives that lie hidden in the forest.
  7. Listening to the real message in what people say is far more interesting than the obvious, surface stuff. Writing is all about observing deeply and closely, whether in a person’s spoken words or in the moody cloud layers bear-hugging the November hillsides or the serpentine striations in the bark of a Ponderosa Pine tree.
  8. It’s far better to Yoda try and fail than to fail to try in fear of what might go wrong. Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds should have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” 
  9. The 1,000 hour or the 10,000 hour rule of practice really does pay dividends. I’m a lazy sort who like to gloss over the hard stuff. Both my writing and my guitar playing are significantly improved with consistent day-in-day-out concentrated effort. I wish I had taken this concept to heart while studying piano as a kid. So, how lazy am I? I began this blog post with the idea that I’d write 33 things I’ve learned. That’s how lazy!
  10. Women are generally much better managers of important stuff like families and organizations and governments. Testosterone is a bombastic nuclear weapon in a 21st century world, a world that performs better with more resilient pillow fights and fewer knife brawls.
  11. None of us really understands anyone else‘s difficulties or challenges until we’ve shared their experiences. “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked in his moccasins.”
  12. Leave the ambiguous, uncertain words out of writing. Either state an opinion or don’t. I’m pretty sure this is usually important or … just maybe it’s not. Wrong. 
  13. Children thrive on stories. Adults are much the same. This goes to the heart of the writing concept “Show, Don’t Tell“. People are far more intrigued by a point illustrated through an anecdote or story than they are by being told directly. We all love stories. When I gaze at a canvas of visual art, I look for the story the painting tells me. Stories are our comfort food.
  14. Pancakes are the perfect breakfast food. Hot, fragrant, mobile-if-necessary, sweet or savoury, all 4 (5 if you count chocolate as I do) food groups in a perfect circular package of yumminess.
  15. Blog titles that include the word “sex” or a sex-related term will ALWAYS get more readership. It’s too easy really. It’s like answering poll questions. We don’t reveal the true nature of our hormonally bawdy thoughts publically, but privately, the carnal rivers never stop flowing.
  16. The stocks I sell today are the ones guaranteed to double in share price in a week or two. This goes along in tandem with the dollar rising or falling sharply in reverse harmony to what I’ve predicted when someone asks me for advice in making a financial decision. Be warned: If I boldly predict one thing, run full out in the other direction. Take that to the bank!
  17. The terms MAN and WOMAN cover a broadly huge scope of gender identity. Our world is a nuanced place and masculinity and femininity are part of the 50 shades domain. Every aspect of gender identity deserves to be respected.
  18. Life is far too short to hang out in the company of compulsive negativity and naysayers. Keep the smilers and positives at your side and the sun will always be warming your insides like hot chocolate.
  19. Fiction books are amazing things. I used to be very pragmatic and believed I could only learn from non-fiction. WRONG! Quality fiction (like 50 Shades of Grey… NOT!) informs us about history, humanity, ourselves, in a constellation of ways we don’t always understand. See point #13.
  20. The older you get, the faster time flows past. I began my formative period with a thick mane of 70’s style dark hair where days passed as if in a horse-drawn surrey… that’s transformed itself into a follicularly challenged salt-and-pepper-fringe-on-the-top Ferrari Formula One racing car. Where the hell is the brake on this aging sucker?
  21. Write in very short paragraphs. People are intimidated by reading long diatribes of information in huge long chunks. Break it up so that it is far less fearsome to the sight. In today’s world, folks listen to musical songs that tend to last 3-5 minutes, not 20 minute symphonies . We absorb in small chunks. It’s who we are in 2016.
  22.  Everybody has a story. Good and bad. Everybody. That person who’s life looks so perfect. The one with the big house or the one who pushes a wobbly grocery cart down the street. They’ve got a story. Everyone needs compassion in some form. Everyone has compassion to give.

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Oh, What A Lucky Man… He Was…

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moonlight-trees

He rose groggy from his snug bed at 4:09 am, absorbing the chilly touch of the wood floor on his toes and shuffled past the window’s view.

Somewhat startling, it appeared as if fresh snow was a light sugar coating on the shrubs in the front yard, the Kerria, the Boston Ivy climbing up the wooden trellis… the Ponderosa Pines all tip-covered in white frosting. How???

He was taken aback as it didn’t make reasonable sense. When his eyes closed just a few hours earlier it had been 8 degrees celsius outside… had a rogue Arctic front sprinted in from the north like an Olympic athlete in such a short time?

Playing detective and investigating further, he wandered sleepily through the quiet house darkness to the back dining room.

As he grew closer to the large picture window overlooking the yard and chicken coop, bright golden light flooded the floor in front of him.

Now that makes sense, he whispered.

An almost-full moon hanging high in the sky was blanketing the outdoors and pressing through the house windows with a coat of lustrous brightness, much the same as snow on the coldest, darkest nights of winter.

Tiny pinprick stars in the sky surrounded the spotlight-bright moon as if the stars were actually moons circling the true Earth moon.

Despite his early morning wooziness, a recognition grew inside him that not everything greeting us is initially as it seems. There is a subtleness and complexity to life that evades us unless we look more closely or evaluate more fully. And superficial looks lead us to luck.

complexity

It can be easy to simply believe that luck is either happily with us or tragically against us.

Luck that isn’t merely coincidental circumstance… the narrowly missed car/bicycle crash, the bullet or knife that evades an artery by a fraction of an inch, the whispered hot stock tip that actually results in a ten-bagger (10 times the original investment)… is really a horse of a different colour.

I used to say NO a lot…

NO is a very useful word to utter when it’s something you truly don’t want to do. Say NO when you really mean it.

But I used to say NO often because I was fearful, nervous, afraid of not succeeding or making an embarrassing dumb fool of myself. I have an extraordinary capacity to do and say embarrassing stuff. Even still.

I feared raising my hand in Miss Mole’s high school Science or Mr. Warneke’s Math classes even if I felt confident in my answer… the scary WHAT IF‘s ruled the inner hallways of my head. Those kids that did raise their hands didn’t always have the right answers. Are they destitute druggies filling the soup kitchen lines now? Hmmmm…. I hope not.

My WHAT IF has largely been replaced with my WTF now. Who cares if I ask a dumb question or don’t know an answer? So long as I’m not hurting anyone else with my words or questions… who cares?

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I say YES a lot more now than ever.

YES is a very useful thing to say when it’s something that enthuses and excites me and fills me with a heartbeating rush of desire to accomplish or try a new adventure, large or small.

Sure I’m still a bit fearful, nervous, afraid of not succeeding or making an embarrassing dumb fool of myself. Not every YES turns into a pot of gold… not very leprechaun is a magically delicious lucky charm.

Irrational fear (you really should be afraid of loaded guns and mama bears!) … like that fear of rejection when I didn’t ask a girl out on a date in my teens, or the fear of giving a botched presentation… is a barrier that holds us back from truly living, dying long before we take our last breath.

Fear be damned.

I don’t rely on luck…

I rely on chances popping up like Blue Jay batters… regular chances to spot and then walk through an open door and finding the inner strength to say YES when I see the opening.

I rely on the 1,000 hour rule to give me more and more opportunities to find open doors. Skills we hone are the building blocks to more doors.

I rely on Idea Sex… mixing and blending ideas makes my mind sharper, more creative. Sharpness means more chance and opportunity to progress and grow and feel an enthusiastic glow from the new things I try …

Of course, my amalgamated thoughts on luck and opportunity and a life lived more fully could be as untrue and as false as “moon snow” in the middle of the night.

The good thing is I don’t mind looking silly if I’m wrong anymore. Luck is on my side.

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Mary and Joseph…

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drone

… toodle quietly down early morning Martin Street of Penticton.

To an overhead drone, they would appear as small ants searching out scraps of food to return to the nest.

Mary is well in front, treading swiftly in her motorized scooter chair; a pair of worn teddy bears bob like crazy marionettes attached to the back of her seat as she breaks her mother’s back running over sidewalk cracks.

Her beady grey eyes are focussed on the walkway and the direction of travel.

White tangles of unkempt hair, untouched by a brush or comb this morning, catch errant whiffs of air movement like little fireworks going off in all directions. The studied concentration on her face leaves you with an impression of a pilgrimage.

They enter and emerge from long, dark shadows pasted across the quiet road by Ponderosa Pine and Norway Maple scattered along their route, doors opening and closing.

The air is fresh and applesauce delicious this early in the day before the dry Okanagan heat settles into town by 10 am. Light chirps of flickers and chickadees sift downwards from the branches above.

Rotund Joe slowly plods, like a proud Clydesdale workhorse, well behind Mary. His right hand behind his back grasps the handle of a child’s plastic wagon filled with sundry items that are incongruous with daily life … thrift store ingredients that may or not make it to the shelves.

Mary and Joe are no Okanagan Casabella Princess and Prince. Almost comic book-like, standing next to each other they look like the fruit-shaped salt and pepper shakers gift we received many years ago.

apple salt

Joe – the salt – is a round, red apple with a warm but mischievous grin… plump and elf’ish jolly.

Mary is the matching pepper shaker, not narrow or small on the top but definitely fanning out pear-like below her waist. She sports a narrow pinched mouth that accordions wide open when she smiles; a smile that comes often and readily.

I shudder when I see the state of their clothing, the ripped track pants, untucked stained shirts and polyester jackets that the Salvation Army wouldn’t deem acceptable to sell. Ketchup stains on two year-olds are kind of cute but on 70 year-olds it’s just kinda sad.

I don’t know where they live, this sweet couple.

I don’t know where their morning journey began.

I don’t know where or when they met.

Children? I suspect not, but I haven’t a clue.

I’ve seen their daily show played out on many many occasions as I’ve driven to my volunteer job at the local soup kitchen, and even at other times while just going about some chore of my own in town.

They arrive early to the front entryway of the Soupateria and sit on the wooden benches outside, chatting to themselves and other regular stragglers whose main social appointment of the day begins and ends right here.

soupateria

There are so many troubled souls that come through the doors of the soup kitchen – all ages, all shapes and colours, all genders – it can be heartbreaking to observe and think of the stories that led to the moment at hand.

Lately, I’m finding the crop of soup kitchen users are a strangely crabby lot compared to those of the past 2 years I’ve worked there. I’ve been checking the night sky more than usual for full moon phenomenon but to no avail.

What I really love about Mary and Joe is that no matter the traumas or tragedies they’ve lived – I’m certain there have been many breakages – they treat me and everyone they encounter like a long lost friend.

A friendly, gentle warmth exudes from their inner souls.

Any exchange with these two and you’re almost certain to walk away with a smile in your heart. Kindness sloughs from them like the dust off Charlie Brown’s buddy Pig Pen.

Each day when they reach the front of the line at the serving window of the Soupateria, through his stubbly grey beard, the first question Joe asks of the volunteer behind the counter is,

And how are you today?

I’ll look over and it’s like bright sunshine emerging from foreboding clouds.

It’s not an empty courtesy to hear him say this.

He enunciates the word YOU like no one else matters in the whole world. Then he listens carefully for the response.

After the friendly exchange, he chirps, “I’ll have egg salad on brown today please!”

A few minutes later without fail, Mary, at the end of her soup and sandwich lunch, always shuffles gingerly to the serving window and in her muffled, child-like voice, calls out a cheery thanks to the volunteers behind the counter.

I smile thinking of the holy irony of their names and then seeing Mary in deep focus, mounted on a small scooter on her diurnal sacred journey to Bethlehem.

Mary and Joe are pitifully stunted and incomplete by most of our societal measurements and yet… I see them as superheroes.

I don’t like the Silver Screen superheroes so much, the Batmans, the Supermans, the Wonder Womans and so on. Give me Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and a Rom-Com any day.

The superheroes I prefer, the ones I truly admire, quietly walk the backstreets of our world, not striving to save humanity but somehow, in their inimitable way, giving others an uplift without even trying.

They’re the ones in anonymous costumes, no flowing capes, no stretch lycra bodysuits: the Marys and Joes on the street, the Chris and Lauraines in the soup kitchen, the Davids and Patricks in the Greek Restaurants, the Ricardos and Arturos who patiently, humorously teach me Spanish… all those who give freely without expectation of wealth or fame or even a pat on the back.

Because we spend so much time living in the illusions and challenges of our own lives we forget, often not noticing the beauty and strength of others we encounter day-to-day.

Mary and Joseph? Simple, plain folk.

They’re out there with gentle smiles, filling the loneliness of their’s and other’s lives… one another’s peaceful, green oasis in the desert where the horizon is limitless and sometimes painful.

Always with a smile…

superhero pee

SUPERHEROES really ARE just like the rest of us…

Looking for Mr. Goodbar-“tender”…

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bloodhound.jpg

Set loose the bloodhounds and investigative detectives… WOOF WOOF… ah-oooooOOO!

The search is on.

I “retired” two years ago this week from a job… a medical laboratory career that I lived for 37 years. That’s a bunch of 18-wheelers full of pus and poop and piss I tested folks.

I didn’t hate the job, nope. It was a good profession where I worked with people I liked a lot, but… I needed a new life vista in my front window, so…

I munched my way through a sweetly delicious “Bye Bye Pie Party” with my lab friends on my 57th birthday and walked out the door. Larry has left the building…

When I began in the lab in the 1970’s it was ridiculously considered a sort of girly job, a fairly low paying position that few men entered because they couldn’t meet those societal assumptions about supporting a wife and family on such low wages… kind of a “McJob”.

Of course I’d lived a real McJob life already.

For 4 and half years through high school and then college, I flipped burgers like a McDonalds All-Star… in fact, I did win pins and trophies as a McDonalds All-Star. I was a Big Mac-makin’ Bobby Orr… a Cheeseburger-slingin’ Usain Bolt!

I knew what a McJob looked and felt like. There is nothing wrong (other than bargain basement pay levels) with McJobs if you have the right attitude.

Lab technology didn’t feel like a McJob. It felt important and necessary and when I wasn’t accidentally trying to… OMG… kill unborn babies, it provided a decent but not extravagant livelihood thanks to progress made through numbers’ negotiation, both union-based and my own.

Proctologist

Where was I? Oh yeah… Retirement.

Did I say I recoil from the word retirement? I do.

It lost its meaning, its life, way back in the day my Dad retired as an oil company accountant in 1972.

He had been holding on by his fingernails for the day… the year when he finally turned 65 and walked out his office door so that he could live the “good life”.

He hated going to work each morning. It was like a daily stab in the heart when he walked out the door of our house on Rainbow Drive.

I never saw him smile more than that day he woke up for his morning cup of percolated Chock-Full-O’Nuts coffee and didn’t have to strap on his suit and tie costume and drive away in our pale green 1970 Ford Galaxie.

Retirement used to be the glorious, long-awaited, anxiously-anticipated end of a lifetime of striving and hard work and sacrifice. Enjoyment of the job wasn’t a particular requirement.

All the Don Drapers out there put in their 40 hours weekly for 45 years (minus the relaxed 2 week summer camping trip with screaming, whining kids).

Then magically one day they stopped cold turkey like a lifelong chain smoker who finds salvation and brushes away the smelly ashtray that was their mouth for decades.

Freedom 65.

Rocking chairs on front porches.

Beach sunsets and gluttonous Seniors’ buffets in Florida.

senior buffet.jpg

Work was a nasty word they horked up and spit on the sidewalk like coughed-up phlegm. Yuck!

A month, a year, a couple of years later they silently inhaled one final breath and expired in their La-Z-Boys while watching the late news on TV. The good life.

The Story of a Life. The End.

Today, there are no doubt a scant few who still aspire to this retirement scenario of unrestricted leisure and endless sloth. Maybe you can tell me where to find them.

The retirees I’m seeing, the retirees I’m encountering on the streets and in restaurants and in running races I participate in… the retiree I’m becoming… are more like excited born-again Christians with new purpose and direction.

Sure, some find new part time jobs out of financial necessity, that bill-paying evil.

But so many of these boomers are leaving their careers, wandering out of the dark forest and exposing themselves to the wide open plains where sunshine and positive choices abound like jackrabbits emerging from their underground dens after the storm ends.

Most of the retired folks I come across are seeking out new vistas like me, new jobs and hobbies and interests that bring a profound sense of joy and verve to our lives… new sources of stimulation that set off little fireworks explosions in our heads (hopefully those aren’t strokes!)

I just want to get more competent at something. Almost anything.

I love the feeling of accomplishment. It’s another kind of orgasm. Much much tidier.

When I took a one week bartending course a year ago, I was searching a new side street, an alley that hopefully held some wonder and something unexpected. The occasional evening I spend pouring drinks for pay (and Male Prostitute tips!) now has expanded my life story.

It’s not a vocation. It’s a personal life expander.

In the past few weeks, I’ve begun spending one afternoon each week working on English language and coping skills with a small group of young Syrian refugees, helping them adapt to a dramatically new world order for them and their children.

From the outside, it looks like I’m doing them an altruistic favour.

I hope they benefit. I think they benefit.

I know I benefit. I know 2 or 3 words in Arabic. I share small jokes and smiles that cross a cultural divide in a world that doesn’t need more walls erected.

My world is expanding and improving little-by-little.

And that’s why I’m searching today.

I’m actively searching for new life expanders, new ideas, new directions.

Ideas that will transport me into new areas, dark caves I’ve not explored but where a tiny flashlight will illuminate a new creative direction in my world.

What my ‘purpose’ will be a month from now, a year from now, whenever, is a total mystery that I’m painting one brushed pixel at a time.

There is no real purpose.

It’s about making choices that invigorate and enthuse me.

And – aside from that other kind (nudge nudge wink wink) – what’s more fun than a “head” orgasm?

head orgasm

PS. One final but important point I want to impart? These new choices, ideas and caves where we invest our “retirement” energy should fall neatly into the realm of the notions described in Sarah Knight’s book: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do

 

Live Time or Dead Time?

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Press your fingers to your wrist and check your pulse for me. I know it’s crazy but just do it.

You felt a steady bump thump bump, right?

OK, good. You’re alive.

Now prove it.

art making

I luxuriate in reading books, listening to recorded music, watching TV and movies, visiting art galleries, feasting in exotic restaurants… these are all sweet desserts and wonderful preoccupations.

The richness of our lives is a temple built upon the passive enjoyments and imaginative passions we digest and are captivated by.

To a point.

A heart-swelling, well-lived life needs balance, a balance of Absorbing and Creating.

Mental vs. Physical, Sweet vs. Sour, Questions vs. Answers, Minor Key vs. Major Key. You get my point, right?

A life spent absorbing the output of others is either:

  • Entertainment
  • Learning or…
  • Dead time.

I love entertainment: movies, theatre, dance, television, concerts, cooking demonstrations, football games. I confess I may not eat all the vegetables I should, but I can sure play a vegetative couch potato with the very best.

I love learning: Learning is leaning into the sunshine like a spellbound sunflower growing wings to the sky, expanding our abilities and knowledge.

Preparation and study, learning to play a tough new guitar lick gives me a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Grasping, digesting, mastering skills and knowledge from others is inspiring and… well… killer awesome.

But like the second, third and fourth pieces of banana cream pie, too many absorbing muches makes us flabby of body and mind.

banana_cream_pie_shirts-

Dead time. It’s like living with a corpse in your head.

Walking through a graveyard under the dappled shade of a Honey Locust tree – looking, absorbing, breathing, contemplating –  is calming and peaceful, but ultimately, “life” six feet under really sucks.

Surely living should be more than passing through the graveyard, absorbing others’ products. Reading Shakespeare or JK Rowling is shadow boxing… enjoyable preparation for the real match.

Eventually, consuming what others create is… Dead Time.

When you personally write like Shakespeare or Rowling or even the worst pulp fiction writer, THAT is truly punching the bag. Live Time.

Creating vs. absorbing.

Like saving and investing $$, the best of intentions mean nothing if you don’t actually make yourself put 10% of your paycheque into the investment i.e. the bank or bond or stock or real estate or…

Live time is creating your own output, being active versus passive.

Writing a story, designing a sweater, inventing a new golf swing, writing a song, building a bookshelf, learning the piano, putting a fusion twist on pizza, singing in a choir, planting a guerrilla garden, designing a website. LIVE TIME.

My backyard chickens like to think they are prime examples of active creativity… one of the girls actually told me this the other day. After all, she clucked from behind the wire coop gate, we absorb the chickie chow you give us and create a brand new egg… every day!

I thought about what she said, but I had to remind her that creating the same thing over and over and over is kind of lazy creativity.

We then had a long discussion over the multiple definitions of creativity, the grammatical distinctions between creative and creativity, and whether it was just semantics at the root of our difference of opinion.

Fortunately, she and her feathery sisters didn’t take my criticism to heart, and so I still get to enjoy their boring creative output in a yummy green onion and mushroom omelette as often as I wish.

……………..

Because it’s something I like to do, I’ll use writing as an example of LIVE TIME. You can substitute anything that stirs your creative juices in its place.

Everybody has a story within. The seeds are lying quietly dormant like bacterial spores waiting to be watered and exploding to life.

story to tell

No life is too small to find some meaning in words. Why? Because your own interpretation of the beauty or horror of the world will be unique. Own it proudly.

Writing can be personal (diaries, journaling) or shared (books, letters, blogs).

Writing, like reading, is a powerful force that can develop and take us in surprising and unpredicted directions.

When you work on your creativity, you develop a great inner force and become competent.

Each day try to do one creative thing that makes you feel good. This is one way to make yourself your priority.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE and a recent book titled BIG MAGIC- Creative Living Beyond Fear believes there is a creative force that surrounds us.

The creative force is there but it requires an awareness and a desire to allow it to materialize from ethereal nothingness like a fluffy marshmallow cloud in the sky.

Vincent van Gogh, speaking of art and poetry said,

Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum… Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream. 

Great ideas need to be nurtured and expressed, and they need work, lots of work. Thomas Edison said “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Hell, you can probably live a great life without ever dreaming a creative or original thought or idea, bobbing merrily atop the ocean surface.

But I think most of us know that slipping on a mask and snorkel and diving under the waves is where the greater riches lie, the rainbow colours are brighter, the water is immersively warm and that is where you’ll truly Find Dory (sorry, that metaphor just might be the worst I’ve ever floated!)

At some time, think about crossing the bridge from reader to writer (or… HGTV-watching DIY fanatic to project builder) and be patient enough to express your own creativity and emotion.

Creativity and personal expression run through each of us like the tempestuous blood pulsing through the radial artery at the base of our wrist.

Measuring that pulse, appreciating its warmth and cultivating the life force it contains is a heavenly approach to dividing our moments between Dead Time and Live Time.

Omelette anyone?

you and everyone else.jpg

 

 

 

Variety: Building Your Courage to say YES

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destiny-courage

Here’s a joke: I should be a very fit guitar-strumming homeless meth addict with an alcohol dependency and a huge bank account. (It’s alright, I don’t get it either…)

But you know, there is a saying, “you’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with.” 

I’d like to add an addendum… ” and… you’re the average of your five favourite activities/interests.”

My five?

Well… I live in a mixed salad bowl with a rainbow assortment of tasty characters; a potpourri of positive people jumbled together with a hodgepodge of projects and pursuits.

It’s a part of my ADHD approach to life, doing something different each hour of the day so that I don’t feel tediumized.

  • I write blogs
  • I run and swim and go to boot and spin classes, I go yoga stretching.
  • I chop vegetables at the soup kitchen
  • I read books
  • I mix and pour drinks at a Greek Restaurant
  • I play my guitar and sing my songs at Open Mic night
  • I research and buy and sell stocks online
  • I cook ethnic foods
  • I watch movies and eat too much popcorn
  • I tend chickens and gather eggs
  • I smoke cigars.

Variety.

variety

I thrive on variety.

Variety in the things I do and the people I hang around with.

I’m like my backyard chickens. Cluck cluck.

The girls are a worry right now because I see some unfriendly pecking going on in the hen’s yard.

Chickens are cannibals by nature.

They like to eat their own eggs. They like to eat their friends. A bored hen gets her jollies by picking and pecking on her friends and relatives.

Chickens need stimulation. VARIETY.

I’ve thrown some jingly cat toys in the yard to distract them from playing KFC on each other.

I need jingly things too. VARIETY.

I glaze over easily when I’m lacking stimulation and start to peck at the other birds of my tribe just because they’re there.

Not on you. Other people.

I don’t want to be a cannibal so I desperately seek variety. Variety in life means saying YES.

I spent most of my life saying NO… NO was the easy way to live. I became an expert at saying NO… I lived in fear of the YES word.

I grew up and became a (semi-)functioning adult when I finished Mohawk College in Hamilton at the age of 19.

I was offered 2 lab jobs on the same day.

One was in the Blood Bank of the hospital where I had just interned for a year; the other was a general lab position in pocket-sized Stanton Yellowknife Hospital in chilly northern Yellowknife, NWT.

Male and Female Logic

My scientific logical NO head said, “Larry, be realistic, take the safe and easy job here at home”.

My firework-laden, emotional YES heart said, “Larry, this is your chance, choose the unknown and go dance beneath the Northern Lights.”

I held my breath and hesitantly mumbled YES.

I think the fear we feel when we say NO is different from the fear we experience when we say YES.

The fear that holds the hand of NO is a running away fear.

The fear that makes love to YES is the fear of running towards something.

YES fear is better than NO fear, isn’t it?

freedom-of-fear

More and more I find I’m trying to grasp ahold of the YES fear…

I’m not the guy I was 10, 20, 30 years ago.

I want to experience the amazingly diverse world around me, sample the flavours of life, roll them sensuously over and around my tongue to feel and touch and taste those things foreign and different.

I want my heart to race with restorative enthusiasm and excitement and a beguiling anticipation of the unknown.

YES to Volcano surfing, YES to Snake Wine, YES to becoming a Bartender. YES. YES. YES.

Now I see you nodding your head, tsk-tsk’ing, and thinking I’ve gone all looney-tunes… well, you’re right, but let’s step back a second.

I am saying YES more… yup… but not an indiscriminate YES. I won’t say YES to everything.

Here’s a tiny example: When I write this weekly blog, it usually takes a bit of time and thought before I settle on a topic I want to pin to the wrestling canvas and put my eye to the telescope and zoom in more closely.

I don’t jump out of my chair and yell an orgasmic YES – like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally – to the first seed that feels its heart beat, then germinates and pops its head above the soil.

I know I’ll say YES eventually… eventually… once I’ve marched each potential idea up and down the echoing halls inside my head, turning them over and over before I finally begin to sense a stiffening VIAGRA-like boost of enthusiasm for the one.

YES!

Those “ADHD” things I do that I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They all began in the sparkling infinite stars-in-the-universe of ideas and possibilities. There is no counting the beautiful stars in an inky sky just as there is no counting the galaxy of ideas and pursuits. It only takes one YES to find and develop momentum.

Go ahead, choose another venture… another ADventure.

One by one the whirling, expanding universe hurls the losers out of the murky cloud of the Milky Way. A shortlist survives the onslaught and the strong gravitational force draws me into its orbit of excitement.

I’m just an average guy who dreams and schemes of finding extraordinary moments that lie hidden within an ordinary life waiting to be discovered, like a ravenous tiger concealed in the underbrush, patiently aware and ready for a tasty morsel to pass his way.

The best way I’ve found to unearth the extraordinary in a day is in seeking variety and being open to the unmapped journey, willing to travel down unknown side streets and paths that aren’t part of life’s standard itinerary.

Courage begins as a little thing that helps small people cast large shadows.

That’s why I’m reminding myself that YES fear is better than NO fear.

child shadow

Wanna Do’s … or … Gotta Do’s

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Q – How are bloody car wrecks and Donald Trump the same?

A – As morbidly terrible as they are, you just can’t look away from the carnage …

Donald Trump 2.jpg

I’m sorry, that isn’t part of this week’s post, I’m just being my normal distracted self.

Let’s see …

Last week I:

  • made bread pudding and banana bread and Chicken Tikka Masala
  • swam 48 laps and went to spin class and 2 boot camp classes
  • wrote a blog post
  • ate popcorn and watched the movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (in THAT order!)
  • did a 16 k. run
  • went grocery shopping
  • helped build a Little Free Library (LFL)
  • watched Donald Trump be Donald Trump (we are soooooo screwed!)
  • prepared my tax return
  • went to a local hockey playoff game
  • researched possible investments in Monsanto and Transforce (I didn’t buy shares of either), and lastly,
  • took in the final episode of Downton Abbey (Hallelujah, Lady Edith finally got her man!).

For someone like myself, an undiagnosed mild form of ADHD kind of person, this is the perfect week.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER

Yup. The Perfect week.

I’m not trying to boast about all the things I’ve done, because I know many of you do far more than this in any given week.

You have to. It’s called survival.

But if you look a bit more closely at my list, you might notice that all of these things are what I would describe as recreational, my Wanna Do’s.

Yup, even grocery shopping and doing my tax return are fun Wanna Do things for me.

In earlier days, I spent long years where my weekly To-Do list included necessary things like vacuuming the carpets, washing clothes and dishes, doing the grocery shopping, doing the banking, driving the kids to ballet or soccer, making Shepherd’s Pie that my kids hated.

They were much more obligation-oriented Gotta Do’s, than fun, desirable, Wanna Do’s.

All that time I was slowly constructing the base of the chocolate layer cake that would become my life … preparing for the day when the sweet cream-cheese icing was all that was left of that yummy cake.

But my cake was never a single flavour indulgence. I built layers of different flavours to preserve my sanity and to allow my many outlets – passions, if you will – to flourish.

I purposefully placed my life on a teeter-totter, balancing the needs and desires and enjoyment of the moment while looking out on the golden sea horizon, attempting to see the life I wanted to be living in 25 years.

Did I do a perfect job of it? Of course not.

But I did have the good fortune of working with a lot of people in my jobs that I enjoyed being around. And when I didn’t, I made the tough decision to move on.

I never earned a whopping sum of money, so I saved and invested what I had in a reasonably successful way.

Inspirational guru Tony Robbins always talks about “should’ing” all over ourselves.

should

I made sure I didn’t “should” all over myself and bow to the expectations of the societal voices that try to dictate what our lives should look like.

I worked a 3 day work-week for the last 20 years of my lab career. My sanity was preserved, and my energies were able to be expended in directions that made me happy even though I wasn’t climbing the rungs of any corporate ladders.

When I found foul-smelling stool sample testing tiresome (I said to myself, “enough of this SHIT!”), I purposefully became a transformer and slipped on the clean underwear of a laboratory database miner for a number of years.

My sense of achievement and self-esteem was sourced in different life drawers.

I was self-aware enough to know the things that I enjoyed doing rather than the things others thought or suggested I should be doing … competence in the technical aspects of my job wouldn’t naturally lead to me being the good people manager that was often the expectation.

Last week at boot camp class I was talking to Marjana – an energetic Iraqi woman who, forcibly displaced, moved to Canada a couple of decades back.

Years ago, she opened a restaurant in Vancouver, a Middle-eastern bistro with special Arabian Night theme events.

Marjana worked every day, 12, 14, 16 hours a day for 4 years, non-stop, just like my current “boss” Georgios. He owns the Greek Restaurant where I play the role of bartender occasionally.

Both of these folks were/are incredibly dedicated to their work. My brother Gord did the same as the owner of a Mexican restaurant a few years back.

All of these people made a success of their projects by immersing themselves fully and passionately.

I am in total awe of these people.

But I don’t want to be them. Nope.

For all of those who love or need to focus solely on one matter at once, I will tell you how much I admire your ability to do the same.

This is what makes a great entrepreneur – a laser focus on one objective and doing everything everyday that takes you towards that goal.

Frankly, it would drive me crazy to be an entrepreneur. I would lose my zest for life like a grape shrivelling into a raisin under the scorching sun.

Such intense focus never made it onto my Wanna Do list.

I can only focus on one area for an hour or two before losing my enthusiasm and drive.

As Marsha my dedicated, delicate yoga instructor smiles and softly sings, “there are many paths to the same objective.

I’ve spent my life hound-dogging a diverse path leading towards the jelly-bean bowl of Wanna Do’s.

Selfish? Indulgent?

It might appear to you that I’m narcissistic and self-centred.

Perhaps, although I try to balance the scales of self-indulgence with volunteer and charitable Wanna Do’s. But even fruitful charity has the seed of ego at its centre unless you’re Mother Teresa.

I think that a truly perfect week should have the space and freedom to accommodate a cathartic moment of Shakespearean mixed comedy/tragedy.

And that’s why Donald Trump is gonna stay on my Wanna Do list for the foreseeable future.

todo-list

 

 

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