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A Thing or Two I’ve Learned in 2017

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Seek out what magnifies your spirit. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.

Patti Smith

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Today, some navel-gazing… a few assorted ragtag thoughts that float through my mind as we near the final weary coughs of 2017 and prepare to draw in an invigorating infantile inhalation of 2018.

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New words and expressions I’ve learned this year: FAKE NEWS, Rip a New One, Throw Shade, Unpack an Idea, Man Flu…

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The notion that, in my world today, a passing decade has a similar meaning and inner sensation to the passing of just a year in my early life.

Do you know how long a year takes when it’s going away?” Dunbar repeated to Clevinger. “This long.” He snapped his fingers.

“A second ago you were stepping into college with your lungs full of fresh air. Today you’re an old man…” 

“… You’re inches away from death every time you go on a mission. How much older can you be at your age? A half minute before that you were stepping into high school, and an unhooked brassiere was as a close as you ever hoped to get to Paradise. Only a fifth of a second before that you were a small kid with a ten-week summer vacation that lasted a hundred thousand years and still ended too soon.  

Joseph Heller

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Manhood is a dangerous occupation, perhaps exceeded only by womanhood, but best lived as humanhood.

Men are sitting at the twilight of their golden empire, the human equivalent of the Industrial Revolution being succeeded by the Information Age. Men are seeking final testosterone-laced solace in a Trump that is dripping blood, halfway crumpled to the boxing canvas.

…………….

• I am at my best when I am in a sense of discomfort.

I think my wife nailed it this week when she brought this to my attention. It had never occurred to me that I thrive when I walk the sharp knife-edge of my personal cliff.

I constantly seek newness and innovation, heart-raising experiences that if nothing else, fool me into believing that I’m alive.

Sure, there’s discomfort and pain, but when lightly blended with patience and perseverance, and maybe even some luck, lead to elation and celebration.

Most of my early years were lived in the shadows, timid and fearful of danger, both real and perceived ones. For certain, I still have lots of fears, but as I’ve aged, my ability to distinguish between real and perceived peril has matured and enlightened.

You and I have our own version of when we are near the edge of the cliff. The precipice varies hugely for each individual. Your cliff edge may be further or nearer than mine, but it exists in every one of us.

Endorphins are those naturally delicious chemicals that dance along the rim of our precipice.

A few examples of experiences that have triggered varying degrees of loose-bowel discomfort for me over time are:

  • training for the Ironman race, training for marathons and half marathons, Tough Mudders, boot camp classes…
  • sliding down Nicaraguan volcano mountainsides…
  • cooking and eating Peruvian guinea pigs…
  • consuming the street foods of New Delhi, India…
  • ripping down a bedroom wall with no idea how I’d rebuild, reconstruct the sucker…
  • sipping snake wine in China…
  • writing a blog that I share weekly with anyone in the entire world who cares to read my thoughts…
  • playing my guitar and singing in the public spotlight, sharing my abilities, my voice and my songwriting for audiences to love or hate, or egads, worse, ignore…
  • learning anew each week about how best to tutor and teach individuals, young and old, male and female, English speaking or otherwise.

Today, I can usually recognize those fears that are a true danger to my life and limb, and those that are mere contraptions, shadowy smoke and mirrors, constructed within my head.

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The mere thought of skydiving used to scare the sh*t out of me.

But here are the numbers: In 2012, 19 people died in parachuting accidents in the United States, or roughly one person per 100,000 jumps.

In contrast, motor vehicle deaths worldwide sit at 27 per 100,000 (only 6 per 100,000 in Canada)… now for a number’s guy like me, this makes my statistical odds pretty damned good for jumping out of a plane and surviving in 2018, right? It’s already booked…

The most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains…

Alain de Botton

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• Some of the most uplifting and pleasing moments I experience are as easy as plying words, ideas, metaphors, attempting to forge originality in blog posts like this, or the notes and lyrics in songwriting.

Creativity in all its forms is like a wonderful wide-awake dream – an amazing source of inner joy.

No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life”

Friedrich Nietzsche

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Finally, allow me this end of 2017 to share a few words with you in poster form… something called the Holstee Manifesto.

A few years back, Holstee’s founders, Dave, Mike and Fabian sat together on the steps of Union Square in New York to write down how they define success. The goal was to create something they could reflect back on if they ever felt stuck or found themselves living according to someone else’s definition of happiness.

This is Your Life… make every day a personal loving and learning adventure… welcome to 2018.

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Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow…

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Do you hear Lindsey, Stevie, and Fleetwood Mac floating past in the background?

I’m not a religious guy.

You may know this.

Not religious in the traditional sense of God and heaven and hell and all that.

But I find beautiful moments of inspiration and indeed, spirituality, in the things I see and hear, and the people I encounter.

Last week, I played my guitar and sang at a local church supper. They know I’m not religious.

I carefully chose songs to play that I figured were humble and kind, you know, innocuous from a “Godly” perspective.

I strummed and picked my guitar and was having a great time crooning away… If you could read my mind love what a tale my thoughts ….

I figured that 15 or 16 songs would be plenty for the occasion, but then I reached the end of my playlist.

The group asked for just one or two more songs. An encore? For me? My ego jumped a tall fence like a bounding deer.

I have a pretty big repertoire of tunes in my quiver and so I happily launched into another song.

The first verse and chorus sailed along smoothly… and then… I realized as I approached the second verse that the song I was singing contained sexual, nudity-type references. Not nasty, violent or hurtful stuff, but adult in nature.

Oh SHIT (sorry… SHOOT!). Panic city. There were children and elderly in the group.

What were my choices? Should I stop singing now? A whole novella of coping ideas ran up and down the hallways of my brain as I smiled outwardly and sang onward.

I squirmed uncomfortably inside as I neared the part in the lyrics that I figured was somewhat incompatible with proper Christian values…  at least while ensconced in God’s shelter.

Now I know good Christians have sex, lots of it if they’re lucky, so I wasn’t unleashing some erotic blasphemy into their happy haven. But I fretted (get it?, guitar playing… fretted? Never mind!) nonetheless.

My solution?

As I meandered into the lyrical minefield I slowly lowered the volume of my voice and craftily turned my head away from the microphone in a truly artistic way so that the mic wouldn’t pick up the “naughty” lyrics.

From the corner of my eye, I spied no one appearing uncomfortable.

Whew… maybe I had managed to wiggle my way out of God’s wrath from above… maybe.

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I’m sorry. Excuse me.

All of this is irrelevant and unrelated to what I was going to tell you. You know, the inspiring part.

Have I mentioned that this post is about inspiration? It is.

After I finished playing, I was conversing with some of these good church folk who were so warm and appreciative.

I stopped to chat with a darling little 90 year old lady who smiled and expressed her appreciation to me (she obviously missed my sex-related lyrics!… or maybe NOT!). Then she commented that she had played guitar herself in her younger years.

She asked, “do you think it’s too late for me to take some guitar lessons?”

That was the sweetest music of the night in my ears. “Of course not.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

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Life and love and learning (and sex) don’t have to end when we strike upon some magical age like 60, 70, 80, 90.

Len at my gym is 93 this year and lifts weights like a robust 40 year old.

On another stimulating tangent, this past weekend I felt inspired by two others in my sphere.

By late fall, I’m usually well past the summer mindset where long running stints are possible.

Like skiing in April or golfing in October, the season just seems to be finished and stowed away like Christmas ornaments on New Year’s Day. We move on.

But last Sunday, my brother … my almost-4-years-older-than-me brother… ran his very first Marathon race in Ontario. That’s 26.2 miles ….42.2 kilometres… more than 4 hours of non-stop running. His body is a well-tuned middle-aged+ machine. Incroyable!

I’ve done marathon runs in my 30’s, 40’s, 50’s … I know how incredibly demanding it is and how much mental strength it takes to train for the endurance run.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

The same day, a local friend of mine ran through icy and snow patches in a 20 kilometre trail running event along the Kettle Valley Trail line. She’s in her early 30’s but dedication and motivation and perseverance hang over her like an energetic halo.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

There I have a trio of perfect inspirational examples… one in her 30’s… one, his 60’s… another in her 90’s.

All of these people are “ordinary” in the sense that they aren’t superhuman to the best of my awareness. But they have “extraordinary” heart and drive powered by a youthful zest.

They each contain their own clues of how they reach for something special. I want those clues to become mine.

Each of them makes my heart beat quicker, and gives me a boost of inspiration.

As I grow older it becomes easier and easier to inwardly reflect and focus backwards to the days when, as Billy Joel sings, “I wore a younger man’s clothes“. Memories are wonderful gems that we can hug and admire and treasure.

But looking in the mirror at what is and has been is a delicious distraction, a distraction that shouldn’t prevent me from gazing out the window and discovering what else lies on the future horizon… ravishing orange-flavoured sunsets can be followed by amazingly bright and cheery sunrises.

The best thing I can do today is to finish writing this blog post, learn a new song (maybe one about sex) on my guitar, think about all the inspirational people that surround me, smile, and say to myself, 

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

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Ransom Note To Your Inner Discovery

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writer frustrated

Aaaaargh… what will this f*ing protagonist do next? How in hell will he extricate himself from a near certain lengthy prison sentence?

With the sun slipping low towards the shadowy horizon, the ideas, the muse, were roaming free and unwilling to return to the stall of the barn inside my head.

Five years ago this coming month I sent myself a (figurative) ransom note.

I embarked on a month-long odyssey to write a 50,000 word novel along with 3 or maybe 400,000 others in the online pilgrimage to writing called NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.

Hopeful hundreds of thousands of quietly sequestered souls across the globe sought inspiration and profound thoughts in the bedrooms and home offices of their own towns and boroughs and landscapes. My writerly setting was this dry, fruit tree and vineyard-draped valley with a narrow lake snaking through it in a tiny Canadian town called Summerland.

The simple gist of the composition adventure is to begin… and finish… writing a novel during the month of November.

Anyone can enter.

Anyone can do it. Even you. No cost. Sign up here.

All you need to do is sit and compose an average of 1,666 words each day.

Black and white. Yin and yang. So simple and so difficult.

Here, let me give you some context.

I pull together this blog once a week and it usually slides in around the 1,000 word mark.

Typically it takes me about 5 or 6 hours of writing and editing, obsessing, drinking lattes, then writing and editing, obsessing some more… That means for NaNoWriMo I was writing about 1.5 blog posts EVERY day for a full month.

Easy peasy, right?

Sure. Easy if you’re supernatural JK Rowling or Stephen King, people of intense focus and creative ability and stamina.

Stephen King wrote a great book on the subject of writing called, appropriately… duh: On Writing.

King may be a “pulp” writer and sit low on the esteem scale with some out there (there are many of his books that even I don’t like), but he’s an unimaginably productive and creative freak of nature.

Stephen King and JK Rowling

A Bonanza of Creative Brain-Force

King’s high up on my formidably long HERO List (Woody Allen has… again… sigh… plummeted this week).

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We are writers and we never ask one another where we get our ideas; we know we don’t know

…………..

My NaNoWriMo novel attempt, The Temper of the Times, was the story of an adult man who testifies in court against the accused rapist of his boyhood sweetheart. Years later, he is sent to jail himself after killing the paroled rapist in self-defense, while his former girlfriend is torn between her defender and her frustrated Peruvian-born husband-physician whom she brought to live in her west coast Canada community.

Interesting? Maybe. We’ll never know as the 50,000 words (YES! I completed it!) I wrote over 30 days languish in a drawer… a sticky drawer where I lack the drive to bring it home.

NaNoWriMo is akin to being in solitary confinement of the Orange is the New Black prison for 30 days.

As I sat in my home office pecking away faithfully day after day I found myself daydreaming of slipping self-directed ransom notes under the door seeking rescue from the bonds I had voluntarily shackled myself with.

I reminded and coached myself constantly with cliched platitudes… nothing good comes without pain or struggle… patience is virtue… hard work is its own reward…

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Writing should be a pleasurable activity. I love blog writing.

Writing should be stimulating and intoxicating, self-examining and saintly.  I attempt to do that in my weekly blurbs.

Writers are romanticized in books, TV, movies… it’s a pseudo-bucolic life of intellectual stimulus and reflection and creativity. I think romantically about myself all the time, that’s how I became Master of My Own Domain at 13!

Participating in NaNoWriMo is like becoming an anthropologist: an unexpected yet powerful self-discovery tool.

The #1 greatest take away I stumbled on in writing a couple of thousand words every day for a month?

I have an enormous respect and admiration for the writers out there who toil in quiet solitude developing ideas and intricate stories and pictures based on their life experiences and observations, or from extensive research and study.

The second greatest lesson was more of an internal discovery.

I’m not cut out for writing novel length stories. The intense, patient focus needed is foreign to my genetic composition. Sure, I can do it if necessary but it doesn’t take me to a happy place in any way similar to the joy I feel in participating in 5 or 6 very different activities, like running or blogging or playing guitar, in a day.

It’s like the staring game that kids play… who will blink first. I’d never win.

Stupid, I’d think. Let’s move on, there 10 other neat things to do.

Stephen King can sit on his ass for 4 or 5 hours every single day (including Christmas, he’s a workhorse) and massage his mind and writing muscles. I’m impressed.

But my massage comes in a potpourri of snippets running wildly off in different directions.

The ancient Greeks originated the maxim: “Know thyself“…

Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanac observed the great difficulty of knowing one’s self, with: “There are three things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.

NaNoWriMo was a 30-day trial of steel and diamonds for the lessons it taught me. If you try it out you may find the same.

I’ll finish up this mere 1,000 word blog post with a few questions for you to ponder.

How well do you know yourself?

How do you unearth your internal answers?

Have you tried writing a ransom note to yourself where you’ll set yourself free only after you’ve made the discovery that sets you on fire?

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I … Movie Maker

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FADE IN:

Stinky, salty sweat all rinsed away, I was walking out of the gym the other day with my friend Ray.

We were BS’ing as we do, when I said, Ray, if I was reborn, I think I’d grow up to be a moviemaker.

Ray roared a belly laugh when I said that. Ray laughs at most everything anyone says.

People love Ray because he makes them feel good. Ray is ice cream and chocolate and sunshine and rainbows blended in a milkshake. Ray is the puppy dog you always wanted. The world needs more Rays.

I love movie theatres and movies. I love the hush and the darkness and the hot, salty scents and the anticipation of what’s to come.

As a kid, I loved visiting the Capitol and the Palace theatres in Hamilton and the Stoney Creek Drive-In theatre.

I loved watching Bonnie and Clyde and Bullitt and Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music and Fred McMurray in The Shaggy Dog.

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Today I love going to my local movie theatre and munching on popcorn and watching Maudie and Passengers and 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club and Inside Out and Lincoln and The Martian and Julie & Julia.

Even a bad movie inspires me in some way.

Inspiration is my TNT. Inspiration gets me off my ass.

Inspiration made me plant a tomato seed when I was 8 years old. Inspiration made me begin training to complete an Ironman race. Inspiration made me write a song and sing it before an audience. Inspiration made me fly to Peru and learn Spanish on Machu Picchu’s doorstep.

Inspiration is always the first step.

The creative energy and dynamism that comes together in a movie is akin to Elon Musk designing and building a battery-powered car.

I sit in awe. It’s beyond my ability as an outsider to comprehend.

And yet. I feel the welling of inspiration.

It’s the same with most every talent or occupation out there. Watching from the outside, we scan the magic and wonder how anyone can learn the skills needed to make it appear effortless.

And it’s OK to sit in awe. It’s OK to watch in awe. It’s OK to be inspired.

For a while.

But inspiration is only the beginning. Inspiration is the easy part.

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A really robust life is one where we don’t spend all of our time as observers. The noisy magpies outside my office window know it, even though they’re sitting in the tall pine trees observing me.

And so, to that point (and apropos of last week’s blog about TRY), even though I’ll almost assuredly never be a moviemaker, or at least one you’ll ever hear about, I’m signing up for an online course called:

Aaron Sorkin: Screenwriting

It’s on the masterclass.com website and it may be total bunk but I’m innocently optimistic.

I’ve been an admirer of Aaron Sorkin’s for years.

I loved his writing on TV’s West Wing, The Newsroom, Sports Night and in the movies A Few Good Men (“You can’t handle the truth!”), Moneyballand The Social Network.

Sorkin writes rapid-fire screen dialogue like no one else. Sorkin defines intelligent, cutting wit.

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Why shouldn’t I emulate the ones whom I admire and respect?

If I was starting over again, I’d watch movies with a more critical eye, observing and drilling in on the tiny points that make brilliant shooting stars flash in our heads.

Bittersweet background music, or the slight welling of moisture in the corner of an actor’s eye, or warm amber light striking the heroine’s face at just the right angle are those tiny points that transform shitty garbage into golden treasure.

And just as deeply profound lyrics make a song memorable for generations, so too does great film writing.

We’ve become so accustomed to watching great moviemaking and writing that we often don’t appreciate the talent and energy, the drive and inspiration, the millions of tiny details that make us laugh, or cry, or think deeply about something that we never knew existed.

We watch and grow in microscopic increments.

Movies, like books and music and art, are AMAZING human creations that we routinely take for granted. It’s only in the past dozen years or so that I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for the skill-set that has us fall in love with a story on screen.

So this week, I’ll begin a minor new adventure as I share some time with Aaron Sorkin.

I’ve reached the scintilla point, an instant in my timeline, where the sense of inspiration is insufficient. The building coitus interruptis feels a need for completion, a release from the energetic tension.

When Ray and I leave the gym exhausted next week, we’ll chew through the headlines of the past week in our banter.

And when he laughs and brings up an intriguing account of someone he met at the brewery pub where he works, I’ll say, “Ray! That’s a really cool story, can I write it into a screenplay?”

FADE OUT.

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I Can’t… But I Can… 

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I’m not Pollyanna.

There are some things I can do.

There are some things I can’t do.

There are some things I don’t wanna do.

There are some things I shouldn’t do.

I’ve had some fun. But was it worth it?

I was handcuffed once and taken into custody. Twice actually. By the RCMP, not a BDSM lover.

It’s a long story I may tell you one day, but it was worth it.

YK Handcuffed  2

The morning following my 21st birthday, I gin-vomited my way from room to room around Stanton Yellowknife Hospital while doing my rounds collecting blood samples for lab testing.

I shouldn’t have done it but was the fun of the night before worth it? Yeah, it was!

She made me feel good, until she didn’t. I broke up with a nice girl, a girl who liked me a lot, merely because she cut off my oxygen supply with her tongue while we were kissing.

I selfishly let her become too attached just so I had a girlfriend. I still feel badly. It wasn’t worth it.

I smoke cigars. Occasionally. I love the musky scent and the feeling of relaxation it imparts.

Short-term it feels worth it. Long-term? Maybe not.

I’ve invested in companies – relying on others’ advice –  without doing my own intense research to see if they were great investments for long-term wealth.

I’ve almost always lost money when I got lazy and let someone else make my decisions for me. Definitely not worth it.

LARRY SPEC CARRIER TIFF

Relying on others’ investment advice at 10 years of age!

I’ve gossiped behind the backs of people I considered friends, saying nasty caustic stuff.

Never worth it. ’nuff said.

………………..

Do. Or do not. There is no try.”    

Yoda.

Actually Yoda, there is a try. There should always be a try. A try with conviction and curiosity and wonder.

A lovely friend across the globe has been recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

She’s accepting of her fate, acknowledging the role of long-term smoking, while appreciating the wonderful opportunities she’s had. There’s a contented resignation to the approaching darkness at the end of the tunnel.

Whenever we hear of someone whose existence has just ended or is nearing their end, we internalize and meditate on our own lives and silently wonder if we should be happy with where our lives have taken us. It’s natural and human.

I know I think about the things I’ve done, the things I’ve not done, and those things I can’t do.

My solution? The voice goes a bit like this… “I can’t do ‘x’ anymore” But on the other hand, “I can do ‘y’!“.

I can try.

We can all try.

If you have an accident or illness and sever a leg and you’re an avid runner, then you know you can’t run anymore (or maybe you can, look at Terry Fox)… but you can still exercise your body with swimming or weight training or wheelchair athletics. Thousands have. Witness the Invictus Games.

To try is to hope. We all need hope. Hope is purpose.

Today, I’m reflecting on the stuff I could do in my earlier years but maybe I have difficulty with now.

Sometimes it’s a physical issue, but often it’s a mind issue.

My “Yoda-try” response is to substitute something else I can do now that maybe I didn’t or couldn’t do back then. I try.

Here, let me give you a few examples:

I can’t run a 10k race anywhere close to the 40 minute pace I could manage 25 years ago.

But I can run a half decent half-marathon once or twice a year. It’s slow, but damned pleasing to cross that finish line knowing that my body has been an active friend for 2 hours

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I can’t become a fabulously famous rock/folk/country performer.

But I can sing with a larger range and more emotional depth and connection than I could in my teens and 20’s. Bigger still is the sense of confidence in writing and performing that increases along with the age on my birth certificate. 

I can’t discipline myself sufficiently to write an entire novel.

But I can find the discipline to write and share a thousand words with you here every week. Acknowledging and understanding my strengths and limitations is deeply satisfying.

I can’t make a beautiful flaky pie crust worth a damn.

But I can cook up a pretty impressive assortment of ethnic foods that I’ve learned from home cooks and cooking classes around the world. I’ll just appreciate the amazing pie crusts that others have the skills to execute.

I can’t sleep on the hard ground on a farmer’s field like I did in the English countryside in my early 20’s.

But I can hold out a credit card with my name on it and sleep in an incredibly comfortable cozy bed in a fancy hotel or resort in Canada or pretty much anywhere in the world. Age and saved/invested wealth bestow some pretty incredible benefits. 

I can’t ever have a high-powered corporate career with the all the bells and whistles and stimulating highs and crushing lows. 

But I can take on little “careers” like making and serving soup, bartending, tutoring and making music where money making isn’t the primary goal. There are tiny pots of gold at the end of many mini-rainbows.

I can’t stay up til midnight or 2 am partying with high alcoholic energy.

But I can get to sleep at 10 pm and not wake up with ringing ears and pounding temples the next day. A clear head is a magical gift.

OK, maybe I am Pollyanna.

‘Fun’ and ‘Can’ and ‘Can’t’ come in very different packages for each of us. Ain’t individualism great?

But to try is the same package for us all.

To try is hopeful.

To try is courageous.

Nietzsche said: “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life…”

Maybe Nietzsche knew something even more profound than that weird little green Yoda.

Yoda apple

 

8 Ways to An Inspired Life

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We live in a vast swollen ocean of inspiration and creativity.

A sea that, at times, is ugly, frustrating, even tempestuous, but also tranquil and stunningly beguiling at others.

The choice is ours alone… to swim in its liquid warmth, tickled and massaged by rainbow-striped fish swirling around and beneath us… or to remain in the colourless dry “safety” of the boat absent from its beneath-the-surface ethereal wonders.

I was reading an article the other day of an interview with singer/songwriter James Taylor where he said something like: “I never thought of myself as a songwriter, but then I sat down and wrote, and wrote, and over time I discovered that I really could be a songwriter.”

That’s kind of a capsule summary of my thoughts and approach to creativity.

woody allen success

We become something by believing, trusting that we can do, and then, at last, by doing.

By “showing up”.

Every time I:

  • pick up a book
  • sit in a movie theatre
  • listen to a song I love
  • ponder a beautiful painting
  • cheer an athlete cross the finish line
  • spy an airplane passing overhead…

… I’m inspired.

How can I not be?

These are all amazing diamond-dusted creations of an individual person or persons.

They weren’t formed through some supernatural magic (although in some back eddy of my mind I can almost believe they were).

They were all folded and formed and thrust like a volcano from the depths of the sea by the actions and fortitude and dogged determination of the human mind and physical effort.

When I awake in the morning, it’s like I’ve arisen in a stolid prairie field with a wide swath of openness, virgin soil, before me.

My first breaths allow me to decide… to choose… if I’ll leave the broad expanse before me fallow, untended, bereft of new life and growth…

or…

… do I absorb a deep breath of clean, fresh open-sky air and purposefully decide to plant and nurture a pasture filled with verdant growth and beauty, replete with colour and texture and expression.

Sure it involves work, but the rewards are life enhancing.

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In order to fulfill my desire to be inspired, here are 8 rules, the work-to-reward system I follow:

  1. Proactive and decisive – there’s just no way to grow creative flowers without plowing the field and planting the seeds. Do something. Start small but do something. Decide today. Write a paragraph, sew a seam, run a block. It’s one foot in front of the other, over and over.
  2. Fail quickly and gloriously – as I grow older, my “who cares” voice has gained ground, and so failure, a word that once was anathema in my life, has become a calling card to likely success. Failure is rarely “fun”, but it’s a necessary evil to pass through to building a creative life. Failure takes courage.
  3. Laziness – procrastination (I can hear Carly Simon singing right now… PROCRASTIN-AY-AY-TION) is one of my bigly’est sins. The mental and physical effort we need to make ourselves creative takes considerable prodding and spent “calories”. Couch potatoes need not apply.
  4. Focus intently – this is another weak zone for me. I start in and before 10 minutes have melted away in writing a blog post, practicing guitar, preparing a lavish birthday cake… my mind begins a bastardly wander that needs electric fencing to keep under control… if only I had a little sheep-pig named Babe to keep my bemused head “contained”.
  5. Stay actively healthy – whatever paths we follow, the bearing we choose to pursue… we need a healthy physical presence to realize a worthwhile ending. Hemingway undoubtably spent much too much time drinking and smoking, but I’ve seen the desk at his Finca Vigia in Cuba where he wrote For Whom The Bell Tolls... no chair for sitting, it stands upright high where he would stand for countless hours typing his words. Sitting is the new smoking – Hemingway was ironically ahead of his time.
  6. Be willing to adapt – a common theme I’ve observed as I, and those around me age, is that the “mature” mind slowly evolves toward a gelling process that freezes opinion and one’s attitude and approach to life. Old Codger… Old Coot… are often accurate descriptions of a senior mind that has become set and unwilling or unable to bend and adapt. A local senior newspaper columnist remains stuck on the notion that everything is terribly wrong in today’s world, and terrifically right back in his youth.
  7. Pay attention to the world with an open mind – creativity is a sun-kissed virtue that relies on a free and open set of eyes and ears, unlocked to the shadowed nuance of our daily existence. An inquisitive, curious mind bursts opens like a morning glory flower to the subtlety of the breezes, the scents, the minute visions of what is meant and felt, and not merely said. Absorb the texture of a toddler’s gentle fingers, the shadow cast by a streetlight across a moonlit lawn.
  8. Embrace Idea Sex – well, surprise surprise… I’d say embrace sex of ANY kind, but from the viewing stand that overlooks the lyrical valley of inspiration, a swirling and blending of idea juices is what inevitably produces the sweetest fruit on the tree of our lives. Creativity thrives on combinations of thought balloons, ideas, notions, perspectives. The iPhone, as one small but world-altering example, employs a big seductive pile of idea sex where a bunch of technology snowflakes are rolled together to make a huge avalanche of a snowball.

apps

Ho hum you might say.

You may be thinking that a whole lot of what I’ve said above is pretty cliche’ish.

Right. I get it.

Gorgeous scarlet-flamed sunsets are cliche’ish too.

And yet, you and I, repeatedly over our years, gather ourselves on a quiet bench, listening to hushed waves lap at the sandy ocean front as the drowsy sun kisses the ocean goodnight.

Cliches are easy truths… that’s why they’ve become cliches.

Inspiration is the hardest easy truth.

once upon a time

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed a Mountain…

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Stairway to heaven

I’d love to live to 100… but, if I don’t… well… if the news about anti-depressants being detected in municipal water systems is true, at least I’ll knock on the Pearly Gates with an upbeat smile on my face.

I may even throw a tiny teehee at St. Peter about whether I’m in the right place…

……………….

(Tragically, three friends die in a car crash, and they find themselves at the gates of heaven. Before entering, they are each asked a question by St. Peter. 
“When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning upon you, what would you like to hear them say about you?”, asks St. Peter. 
The first guy says, “I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time, and a great family man.” 
The second guy says, “I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow.” 
The last guy replies, “I would like to hear them say…… LOOK!!! HE’S MOVING!!!!!”)

……………….

That’s me!

I’m not really afraid of the actual dying part, but I am nervously anxious of missing out on all those things that are important around me.

There is a universe of incredible beauty that wraps itself around us in warmth and comfort… the melody lines of the songbirds, the peach-blushed fiery sunsets and star-speckled inky night skies… the cozy love and generosity of our treasured ones.

I don’t want to leave any of that grace, that splendour, in the rear view mirror. Must all of the soul-elevating harmonic music disappear?

Years back, I used to think that once my kids were born, I could at last die happily knowing there would be investment and insurance $$ to give them a good forward push down the toboggan hill of life. What more could I possibly need from this world?

toboggan

But here I am – still – today, brimming with I’m-so-lucky pride over my grown up kids, and I’m acclimatizing myself to the idea that I’d really like to see the cute faces of, and share time with my yet-to-be-born angelic grandkids.

And I’d still love to visit a ton of places like Cairo, Moscow, Budapest, San Antonio, Texas and The Alamo (here’s a moving modern-day hurting song about the Alamo that I studied in a songwriting course).

So… life at 100. Yea or Nay? Would you like a piece of that cake?

In 2011, the Canadian Census enumerated 5,825 people aged 100 years and older, or a rate of 17.4 centenarians per 100,000 persons. The 2016 census counted 8,230 centenarians, a 41.3 per cent jump over the 2011 figures. That’s pretty impressive.

Yup, our odds are on the increase.

But, I’m already nearing the dropping off point where my Ma died (aged 61).

And in another decade I’ll catch up to my Dad’s departure gate of life (age 73). “Those passengers in Age Rows 70-75 may now approach the gate.

I sense that I’m stepping ever closer to the raggedy sharp edge of a cliff with no railings and no safety net below.

The weighty question: Do our parents write the rough draft of our autobiographies?

I’m going for a “To 100 or Bust” re-write of my life story, but we’ll see what happens.

100 years old.jpg

Here’s the plan: I’m doing some positive stuff that my parents were culturally blind to in terms of health and longevity. They knew nothing about fibre content of various foods, Type 2 diabetes, or the true lung and heart choking seriousness of smoking and weight control.

It’s a crap shoot but I figure I can do a few things to nudge my odds up the steep wall… what’s to lose?… my grandkids deserve a TMI-sharing curmudgeon in their lives.

Will current scientific knowledge and my own resolve get me over the genetic hurdles I face, and welcome me into the Centenarian Club?:

  • I exercise just about every day… run, yoga, bike, boot camp, tennis, HIIT train, swim, spin class. It’s a part of my habit train that I can’t and don’t want to get off. Endorphins and muscles are just too much fun!
  • I sleep 7-8 hours most days… add in delicious naps and I can get to 9 if I’m lucky. Unlucky you to be around me when I miss those zzz’s… I don’t function well on poor or shortened sleep.
  • I try to help others… I often feel damned guilty about not picking up hitchhikers, but my altruism comes through in other areas like working at the soup kitchen and tutoring ESL and literacy students. I pretend it’s only to help others, but it makes ME feel good.
  • I eat a fair bit of fresh fruits and vegetables (my parents thought – OMG! – that canned green peas were health food). And under the TMI category… my bowel habits are exemplary! That’s the GOOD! Here’s the BAD!: I do eat more meat than I know is best and I have an insatiable sweet tooth for baked goods and chocolate.
  • I drink scads of water plus a cup or two of coffee (via latte) each day and one or two glasses of wine or light beer each week. Depending on the science article-of-the-week (Fake News?), this may be helpful. I know it’s enjoyable.
  • I drive my car between the lines on the road and generally stick pretty close to the posted speed limits… which is why I love driving in Utah or Montana with their 85 miles per hour legal highway speeds!
  • I exercise my mind with reading and blog writing and practicing guitar. The mere mental exercise of trying to remember the recipes for a ton of mixed drinks in my occasional bartending “retirement” job is a huge cerebral workout. Then add in figuring out what the new words mean that my kids throw at me is a bonus (e.g. “He was the BOMB!”… “What? he blew up?”)
  • I hang around as much as possible with people that are supportive, make me smile and sport upbeat positivity. I cross the street to avoid the unfortunate Debbie or Donald Downers who throw gloomy anchors in all directions.

You may have noticed that I like certain numbers. Investment returns of at least 15% annually… 10,000 practice hours… or 1,000 hours… 8 hours of sleep… sub 2-hours for a half marathon run.

Life is a cup of meaning in the joy of numbers.

Today I’m adding a new number to my list.

100. 

I like goal setting as an incentive to a milestone or mountain peak.

Why don’t we climb up this mountain and see if we can summit and high five at the 100 peak of life?

mountain peak.jpg

Are You Reeling In The Years?

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Time passing painting

Your everlasting summer
You can see it fading fast
So you grab a piece of something
That you think is gonna last
But you wouldn’t know a diamond
If you held it in your hand …

Are you reelin’ in the years
Stowin’ away the time… 

Steely Dan

HOLY SH*T! Time is fleeting and I can only stow away so much time and information in this brain of mine.

My cerebral hard drive has grown full of tentacles and webs, roads and rivers that scramble to run in parallel, understandable pathways.

This is good news and bad news.

Good because, like you, it means I’ve lived and experienced a packed life crowded with amazing input and exploits, colours painted in and outside the lines, canvases overflowing their edges, a satisfying sip of vin rouge. The richness thrives inside me like a sumptuous secret garden.

Bad because the fine details, those photographs and memories that are so blissfully joyous – the tiny babies’ breaths of experience lost, the golden sunrises – are often the most wondrous heartbeats and painful to lose.

Inspector Clouseau

Bad too because my memories are only mine, and when I suck in that last breath, all of the memories will flame out like a supernova into infinity.

Infinite jest. Time and years.

July of 2017 is only halfway through its course and still I feel the Sunoka Beach sands of summer slipping between my toes. So fast.

Do you remember when the hot, humid childhood Julys were everlasting? It was slow-mo like a 45 rpm record played at 33 rpm (only those of a “certain” age will get this reference)

There were long days filled with scrub baseball games in the field across from my house on Rainbow Drive, carefree flirting with Cathy and Adele on the playground swings next to Glen Echo School, camping in the family tent-trailer in my backyard with Jerome or Renato or Frank, under-the-blazing-sun swimming in the Rosedale outdoor pool.

Summer contained a miraculous blending of enthusiastic fun, sunburnt skin, and frustrating, juvenile boredom in a world with only 3 black and white TV stations.

That was then.

Now, July only lasts a week, maybe two if I’m lucky.

HELP.

Would someone please take the amphetamines away from the clocks, the liquid mercury from Father Time.

The rapid passage of time has me clinging to minutes and hours like an anchor in a riptide.

And I’m slowly realizing that maybe… maybe… this new age term “mindfulness” is the only way to reel in the quick march forward.

mindfull.jpg

I’ve gotta slow down… I’m a do’er, moving from one idea, one project, one activity to the next… because I thrive on playing like a sponge and absorbing the world around me.

But it’s all too superficial. Let me explain.

Six or 7 years back I took a correspondence course from Acadia University in Nova Scotia on Ancient through Renaissance History.

It shocks me now that I’ve retained so little. I learned and knew the names of old Popes and Roman Emperors and the writings and philosophies of Aristotle and Machiavelli. I knew the Ottoman Empires and the Visigoths and the Moorish tribes.

And when I finished the final exam, I moved on to my next project.

But now when I see these same names come up in episodes of Jeopardy – my source of all relevant knowledge today! – I draw blanks consistently. You see I was so intent on learning quickly and moving forward that I let the juicy stuff melt away like a summer popsicle.

I berate myself and anguish over the struggles I have to remember what I see and read, and now I’ve come to this confusing and contradictory two-part conclusion (after all, each of our lives are jammed with inconsistencies e.g. driving an electric or hybrid vehicle while owning a huge home with central A/C) :

  1. My approach has always been to move fast… surf the waves… impatiently doing “stuff” and grabbing onto the next exploit that awaits. I’ve treated experiences and opportunities like Big Mac junk food, yummy but fleeting. Being aware of the moment i.e. mindfulness, hasn’t been an arrow in my quiver. I think its time for me to come around to embracing “slow food”; especially those times while reading or just being with others whose company I enjoy. Maybe Steely Dan’s lyrics to reel in the years and stow away the time is good advice.
  2. Conversely, enjoying much of life’s adventures and escapades are meant for the moment. Bombardment of the senses is wholly beautiful and satisfying in itself. Not every experience cries out to be consciously retained forever to make a fully-lived life. I don’t remember the specific minutiae of being with my buddies, jumping into a clear, cool, blue swimming pool as a kid, but I savour the memory of how wonderful it made me feel. Ofttimes, that’s enough.

We all know that life is a work in progress, never ever complete until “dust-to-dust, ashes-to-ashes“.

But I think that if I just let up sometimes and mindfully allow my multiple senses to observe, then the race-to-infinity clocks will slow their incessant march along with me.

Sometimes I need to decelerate the pace and feel the diamond I’m holding in my hand.

woan with dog at sunset

Morning Has Broken…

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Are you a Morning Lark…

Cape Cod Morning

Cape Cod Morning… Artist: Edward Hopper

… or a Night Owl?

Nighthawks.jpg

Nighthawks… Artist: Edward Hopper

An early morning Okanagan Lake ripple concentrically riffles its way outwards, softly handing the light reflection onward from one small wave to the next like an Olympic relay team passing a baton from start to finish…. silent symphonies of silky azure grasping tones from the sunrise sky.

A gentle southern breeze from Oliver hovers over the water, lazy like a Texas drawl, drifting northward up the valley.

The delicate paintbrush of sun casts narrow, gauzy shadows across the clay cliffs, highlighting the vertical veins and wrinkles patiently etched and scratched through wind and rain millennia. You raise your eyes and drown in its beauty.

I’m a morning person.

I like it that way.

Okanagan lake dawn.jpg

As a kid, I loved jumping out of bed on a cloudless summer day and smelling the perfume of lilac and lily-of-the-valley blossom in the air, invisible clouds of blissful scent that gave a sense of deliciousness to the dawn.

I’d wander the pathways of my little vegetable garden and absorb the trill of the morning songbirds.

My energy and creative spark are morning-centric.

Today:

  • I write my blog posts in the morning, signing off my computer before noon.
  • I do my “hard” guitar practice and songwriting in the morning hours.
  • I hit the gym, or pool, or track, for intense exercise… yes… in the early am, often before the sleepy sun pulls itself out of bed for the day.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Except.

Being a morning lad makes my… summertime… part-time… evening-time… forays into bartending a challenge.

I love the aura of creative flow I feel when I concoct, blend and shake red, and yellow, and blue cocktails, adorning them with pinwheels of lime or zesty curlycues of lemon peel… but… yawn.

If only folks enjoyed imbibing their alcohol at 7:30 am with a warm pancake and a slice of bacon and then calling it a day by noon, I’d be in bartending heaven. I’d be floating on a natural energy high, perhaps boosted a touch along the route by a “Vitamin C” latte fix or two.

But reality persistently insists that alcoholic consumption is in the nighttime haven of humanity… many of us even watch the ticking clock, feverishly counting down the seconds before joyously pronouncing “Happy Hour” at 4 pm or 5 pm, abiding by the unwritten rule that booze is verboten any earlier.

When pouring and mixing drinks for others, I find that by 11 pm when the patrons, servers and staff in the restaurant are decidedly looking awake and energetic, I’m coaxing, prodding, imploring my eyes to prop open and remain alert.

And on other evenings, when I go on stage to sing and play my guitar at Medicis’ Open Mic night, I hope for an early slot on the entertainment slate. At 7:30 or 8 pm, I’m primed and wide awake and set to perform. Put me in Coach!

Time passes, another light beer settles in, and by ten o’clock, my eyes are growing heavy and I fear my voice will sound tired and croaky. In fact it never does, but as I tap my toes and enjoy the other entertainers’ music, I worry and fret that I may not be at my best.

It’s occurred to me that I could suggest to David the owner that he try out an Open Mic “Daytime” edition!, but I know it would never fly.

medicis night

Me, on stage at Medicis

Need another example? I frequently enjoy a night at the local Cineplex, inhaling fluffy bags of salty, buttered popcorn, and catching the latest Wonder Woman or Maudie flick.

There are two evening showings, but it’s always the early showing, the 6:30 or 7:15 edition that I sign on for. Starting the film at 9:30 or 10 pm means when the lights lower in the house, my eyelids kinda do the same. No one likes the unintended snoring sounds of Shavasana next to them in the theatre. Can’t help it.

Something that makes humans so special is that we are a species that can adapt to new environments.

As a Man on the Fringe, I adapt into these environments where I plug my square peg into a round hole (hmmm, maybe that’s an unfortunate choice of wording!) because they expand my quality of life, adding technicolour to my world like the moment Dorothy opens her door to Munchkin Land. “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

Many of the joys and desires in life occur as the sun sets, flaming in orange and pink hues at the western horizon. When the sun fades to twilight… as darkness oozes into the corners and crannies… the curtain rises on romance and sensuality and danger.

So while I’ll never fully adapt to the schedules of these times, I do my best to set mind over matter, sharing in the beauties that exist in the shadowy nighttime world.

Then as the sun bathes the far side of the planet, I’ll dream of the sensory delights and pleasures that await me when the loon’s call brings me back to life and I open my eyes and ears and nose to another deliciously fresh morning.

Once again, I wander the pathways of my little vegetable garden and absorb the trill of the morning songbirds.

moon and earth.jpg

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.

bonnie-and-clyde-poster

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.

Maudie.jpg

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.

Maud lewis painting.jpg

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-

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