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Your Creative Refresher Bomb

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man pulling hair

AAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY… my head’s exploding…

All of the new streaming services that sail content into our homes – yes, Amazon Prime, Disney+, Netflix, Crave, Apple TV, Hulu, YouTube, et al… the list is growing like a nuclear mushroom cloud – are calling for more and more creative thought and projects: TV shows, music, movies, computer games, books.

I’m getting exhausted at the mere thought. I should lay down.

And it reminds me that I’ve run out of ideas. For blog posts. For writing music.

WAIT … that’s WRONG! Of course, we’re never out of ideas. NEVER

The joy and fun of creativity is a tough master to keep fed. The blazing brainchild fire needs a steady supply of dry wood. It’s like a mental climb up Everest. But did I mention?

It is fun.

And it runs in cycles, like your blood sugars after a superbly gooey cinnamon bun (OMG, you should try the ones I greedily gobble at GROUNDS FOR COFFEE in Vancouver)…. whoa… up she goes, and then… *screaming*… the rollercoaster plummets.

cinnamon-buns grounds for coffee.jpg

The job for myself and any of you who thrive on the act of creating – something, anything – is maintaining a sense of balance on life’s beam and understanding the cycles that can leave you with a big bipolar headache.

Please don’t ever believe that creativity will wholly happen consistently because you’ve been magically blessed with some supercharged gene from your Cave-person forebears.

Remember the old Dick Van Dyke Show where Rob and Buddy and Rosemarie sat around in an office all day/every day throwing around comedy ideas for the Alan Brady show?

What? You don’t remember? Sorry, this is OK Boomer talk!

They sweat their idea machinery for hours day in and day out.

Most minds are not instantaneously creative… which is why the 1% who are truly and consistently creative (I lag in the pack well below the 1% group, but I score the participation prize), the ones who are more than “one-hit wonders”, just so happen to be the most sticktoitive kind of folks.

New idea sex, that seductive synonym for creative purpose, can at times flow easily, like the fabulous ideas that float into your head while dreaming (I love these).

… but, my friend … and this is THE important point of my post this morning.. the BOMB if you will … and the thing that took me decades to learn myself … sadly, most good stuff comes because you and I MAKE IT HAPPEN.

creative bomb

We sit and think, sometimes for minutes, but more likely hours and days… we cogitate ideas back and forth like an intense tennis match, keeping the ball aloft and moving, making a few good lobs and passing shots, and then finally… finally… a kill shot materializes.

It’s a process that evolves the 10,000 hour rule into the 10,000 ideas stratosphere.

……………..

Creativity is only good if you do it.

Thinking about being creative isn’t enough. You know all about good intentions.

Intentions and positive thinking are the start line, not the glorious arms-raised finish.

Creativity is invisible work until you decide that your child can be released, sent to school, and shared with the rest of the world.

Sure it can be a bit scary. I know for myself that sharing my songwriting lyrics on this blog site is sometimes exposing my inner being, my self worth – both the good and bad – to anyone and everyone. Risk is part of the creative process.

Certainly we can enjoy the fruits (and popcorn) of creative labour of all those in the media industry and consume consume consume.

But I believe that the greater joy of this and every season is when you produce something that you’ve poured yourself into with an element of your unique inner brilliance and passion.

It’s the gift that you give to yourself and others. Something that has released a part of your creative fire and spirit.

Now, let’s celebrate with a fabulous cinnamon bun!

creative fire

No Jabba the Hutt For Me…

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jabba the hutt.png

I wanna be skinny, buff, rich, and popular … I’m none of those right now so you choose the order for my attack.

You know how some people migrate from idea to idea, notion to notion, whim to wish to desire …

I call it Flavour of the Month Club.

Get Rich Quick Plans, Diets, Exercise Programmes, Investment Schemes… Mary Kay and Tupperware, Dr. Atkins and Keto and The Zone, Penny Stocks and High Tech, CrossFit and Tough Mudder… you get the idea.

There are millions of schemes that pitch the idea that we can be better (or Be Best according to some immigrant lady named Melania) at anything we choose to be.

There is always a better way according to the marketers, and we cast from one side of the ship to the other seeking the magic, the Heart of the Ocean, that lies in the murky waters beneath. Mostly we just vomit over the side of the boat.

And… I admit that I’m as susceptible to this movement as anyone. Probably more…

I do want to weigh less than a feather … I do want to run as fast as a cheetah (without being a cheater) … I do want my stock returns to fly.

However, my Flavour of the Month tendencies are most often directed towards learning and accomplishing goals… goals are my internal-combustion engine, my spark, my fire, my orgasm.  No goals? I sputter and conk out on the couch like Jabba the Hutt without the glitter of a brass ring to reach for.

So… onto the point I’m making…

“YOU’RE GOOD. GET BETTER. STOP ASKING FOR THINGS.” Don Draper

Around the same time each Sunday as I publish this blog, I receive another e-mailed blog post called BRAIN FOOD on a site titled Farnam Street. It floods my head with a cornucopia of ideas and philosophies and a candy store full of inspiration.

I’m in the early stages of reading a book titled ULTRALEARNING, written by Vancouverite Scott H. Young, and recommended last week in BRAIN FOOD.

After the first few chapters I’m thinking that this could quite possibly be my Flavour of the Month.

ultralearning

While not meant to be easy, the book outlines a process of learning intensively so that goals are accomplished in a compressed time frame with a focus on real world applicability and not just theoretical blabber.

I’m an impatient hurry up kinda guy and so I really like this. However, finding focus might murder my goal.

Author Young claims (I can’t confirm the veracity of this) that he:

  • Taught himself the entire four-year MIT computer science curriculum in just 12 months.
  • Learned four languages in one year (Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean) to a solid conversational level, spending just 3 months on each language.
  • Taught himself to draw realistic portraits in just 30 days.

Going forward, there are 3 areas of interest on my current stream that I want to push to the top of my goal list and make use of the process Scott outlines:

  1. Make a high quality “professional level” musical recording in my at-home recording studio. I dabble at recording, but lack the skills and knowledge for artistic excellence. My early plan here is to study the curriculum of college Music Audio Recording Art programs. I know that Coursera offers a free online course titled The Art of Music Production. I’ve signed on…
  2. Learn Arabic – Each week, I tutor an Arabic-speaking fellow in English. Now I would like to speak to him in his native language. I have some research (part of the ultralearning approach) to do first before I decide how to tackle this challenge.  As-Salaam-Alaikum!
  3. I’ve played acoustic guitar for many many years. My skills have definitely improved in this era of online and YouTube learning. But I want to take an incremental leap at this point. My early goal here is to take my fingerpicking guitar skills to a higher level by learning at least 10 from the following list of “advanced” songs (your recommendations for which ones I should choose are encouraged! Or, if you have other suggestions?):

Stop This Train (John Mayer)

Going to California (Led Zeppelin)

Nothing Else Matters (Metallica)

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You (Led Zeppelin)

What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong)

Angeles (Elliot Smith)

Hey Hey (Eric Clapton)

Signe (Eric Clapton)

Neon (John Mayer)

God Only Knows ( The Beach Boys)

Never Going Back Again (Fleetwood Mac)

Don’t Fear The Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult)

Papa George (Tommy Emmanuel)

Ruby’s Eyes (Tommy Emmanuel)

Classical Gas (Mason Williams)

Mister Sandman (Chet Atkins)

Big Love (Fleetwood Mac)

One Day (Martin Taylor/Tommy Emmanuel)

Embryonic Journey (Jefferson Aeroplane)

Haba Na Haba (Tommy Emmanuel)

 

“I DON’T BELIEVE IN FATE. I CREATE MY OWN OPPORTUNITIES.” Don Draper

Inspiration and motivation, creativity and reach.. these are the hyper-oxygenated blood cells that light bonfires in my soul.

I’d sooner try and fail (I seem to do this a lot!) than throw my hands in the air and say it can’t be done.

I love my Jabba the Hutt couch a lot. But it feels so much better to sink into after I’ve crossed a finish line, jumped from a plane, drilled over and over a new chord progression, had a casual but challenging Spanish conversation with a Mexican fieldworker, blown raspberries with my grandson.

Ultralearning is a flavour I want to savour… at least for this month!

ultralearning venn.png

The Birthday Door

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GOOD GRIEF

There are artists of various kinds – painters, composers, writers – who find themselves at an impasse, a temporary roadblock where their muse is unable to coax the finishing touch… yet.

In writing the lyrics for a song this week, I’m struggling, not frustrated, because I know the answer is there, but also not rising to the surface. What this means is I’m presenting to you an incomplete composition… the unfinished lyric.

I’m not pleased nor disappointed … forward progress isn’t always a straight line, is it? Thank you, I can see you nodding your head!

I’ll revisit my words again soon and I know that with time and concentration, the inspiration will take me to the finish line. That muse rarely disappoints … she holds a mysterious but wondrous power.

Now, should you have a lyrical idea or brilliant snippet to share with me, I would be pleased to try it on for size… thanks!

Onto the song…

I passed another annual cake and ice cream event recently.

The thought occurred to me that a birthday was akin to opening a door and moving on to a new part of life’s journey… the passageway to reinvention and renewal. A Yellow Brick Road moment.

Each verse in this lyric reflects a stage along this discovery pathway.

The latter aspect of the “trip” is where I’ve stumbled, unable to make the flow and ideas work in a way in which I’m happy.

Just another verse or two is what I need to make this a completed work… completed aside from finding a musical avenue to bring it to real life… no easy task in its own way. What’s that? How does one eat an elephant? Right …

(And for those who are interested, my rhyme scheme is AAABB)

Thanks for reading… here goes…

THE DOOR

At first there was no door
One day he looked up from the floor
Absent words yet to explore
just mommy’s smile and a breast to suck
“blow out the candle, no don’t touch”

The next few doors so long ago
balloons and kids and baseballs to throw
hair coming in though not down below
I learned that the he was me
few lessons came easy or free

Teenage doors flung wide with fears
I stumbled on passions I cried hidden tears
loves gained then lost then reappeared
Soothing stars in a guitar late at night
more doors still to open then I do felt right

Little hands turn door handles up high
Daddy let me open the box for you can I?
I’ll play with that, little voice never shy
Twilight zone halls lived in a haze
Weeks months yes years that were days

…. ??? Verse or two about later life… ???

CHORUS
In front of this door
Wondering
How many will I pass through
along the way
give me cake give me candles
give me toothaches give me sandals
how many doors do you think I can handle
before I can’t find the key

This Pilgrim’s Progress: Young… or… Old?

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Summerland snow

It was like receiving a belated birthday wish from a long-time friend.

The wait lasted until December 26 – Boxing Day in Canada – for the first cotton snowflakes to drift and plump and fluff and find their way through the skies to perch on the impatient evergreens here in Summerland.

For a few weeks now I’ve been peering out my window over to the frosted eastern hillsides of Okanagan Lake, breathing in the visual white line of demarcation halfway up the slope, knowing that snow was out there somewhere, just not where I could touch it and roll it up into little snowmen and snowladies and snow non-binary specific people.

This same story plays out most years, although usually about a month earlier than this trip around the sun.

It’s gone on for so long now that I’m thinking about aging and getting old.

I find myself joking around a lot, telling people the reason I don’t remember this, or don’t do that, is cuz I’m OLD!

But am I? I’m not really sure….

Is old wearing reading glasses? Is old forgetting where I put my reading glasses? Is old passing more gas than I used to? Is old eating dinner at 5 o’clock and falling asleep by 10?  Is old slowing down or speeding up (philanthropist David Rubenstein urges us “to accelerate” as we entered the last chapters of our lives.) Is old when I can’t run a 10 minute mile anymore? Is old when I stop being interested in new information and experiences? Is old when I stop jumping from airplanes and swimming across lakes? Is old when I start to talk about the good ole days?

Is old now… or always coming tomorrow or tomorrow after that?

old and young tom hanks

Sergei Scherbov, lead researcher of a multiyear study on aging, in answer to the
question, When does old begin?, says for Americans, it’s roughly 70 to 71 for men and 73 to 74 for women, though, as he has written, “your true age is not just the number of years you have lived.”

It’s intrigued me because a while back when I asked my Syrian student-friend how old his parents – refugees that have just been resettled in England – were, he said…

… oh, they’re old, both my father and mother are 55.

What!?

He was dead serious.

I paused, thought wistfully for a moment, smiled, and then reminded him that I was 61.

He grinned back at me sheepishly, and replied earnestly, yes, but 55 is old when you live in Syria… 61 is not old when you live in Canada.

According to a 2017 study by U.S. Trust, Millennials, now in their 20s and 30s, say that old starts at 59. Gen Xers, now in their 40s — and no doubt with a new appreciation for just how close they are to entering their 50s — say 65 is the onset of old. Boomers and older pegged 73 as the beginning of old.

I knew I was pretty much on the start of the pathway to “old” when a younger person first called me “Sir”. Who you talking to?

If I asked every single one of you that reads this, “what is old?“, I’d get a different answer from each of you. Old has a different meaning, a unique connotation, in our minds.

For me, the feeling of excitement, of inspiration that runs through my days is the biggest indicator of age, young and old.

Writing these blogs, playing guitar, writing music and singing make me feel young. Apart from the bastard mirror that lies when it shows me my face, I can almost believe that I’m 19. I still run and bike and ski, I read and learn, I travel and cook, I vacuum and wash dishes. I drive without leaving my left signal flashing for 10 minutes.

But I run more slowly. My eyes glaze over after reading but a chapter or two. I sleep in hotels instead of hostels or tents. I forget things my kids did when they were 8 years old. I forget things I did last weekend!

Cancer and heart disease drifts like a lazy river through my family. My get-up-and-go attitude could slip away with a single CT scan, car crash, or unstuck plaque in my arteries.

It’s possible that I may be only a hobbling step or two away from jumping the fence to old.

Poke me with a fork, I’m almost done! Maybe…

All the more reason to pick up the pace now. Accelerate!

May the chapter entitled 2019 that YOU write in your life book be one of not merely seizure… but seized challenges, opportunities, and maybe even acceleration.

Now, if you could just tell me where my reading glasses are?

 

8 Things I’ve Learned At Age 60+

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Lincoln with man bun.jpg

I’m how old? Get the f*** out… can’t be…

Or…. can it?

What’s that Serenity Prayer thing about “having the wisdom to accept what you cannot change…“, yeah, my age qualifies under that…

Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

Socrates was a clever man, but I’m not buying into his philosophical ditty there…

I know lots, but I also have the wisdom to know that I have a ton to learn…

I have so much to learn… my days may wither and shrivel on the vine, and still, I’ll never really truly know if a God exists (although I’m pretty heavily invested in Stephen Hawking’s NO side) … how to fold a fitted sheet… why women have to bleed every month just for the pleasure of having children… why McDonalds doesn’t sell hot dogs… or… if chocolate comes from a bean, how come it’s not in the vegetable group?

But still, I DO know lots. I’ve survived to this point through the school of hard knocks and picked up a few valuable tutorials along the tortuous passageway of years. I’ve come a long way from, “Larry, don’t touch the iron with your hand.” “Yes, Mommy.

I’m not an expert, just an observer and sifter. I sift and I weigh, I ponder and I sift some more. Then I make my conclusion which usually sits in a grey zone. Maybe that’s why my hair’s gone grey – the older I become the more grey zones that inhabit my inner space. Like right now … I can’t decide who to vote for in today’s municipal election.

voting ballot

But this doesn’t stop me from sharing my siftings anyway… sucks to be you, eh?

A few points that stand out for me in my continuous lifelong education? Try these:

    1. Don’t stop even if it hurts (a little). If you’re on the right track: physically, educationally, personally… don’t bail because things hurt a little. Perseverance and persistence are hallmarks of success in any endeavour. The price of this improvement often involves a modicum of pain… my body usually moans an achy-breaky ballad after a long run, my fingers are sore and dripping blood (just kidding) after a productive practice session on guitar.
    2. Be responsible for your own finances. No one cares about your financial health today and tomorrow with the same intensity as you. Don’t buy into something with your hard-earned and saved capital unless you understand it and its risks well. Market makers love to yell FIRE even when there’s barely the hint of smoke in the air. So when the market yells FIRE, don’t run for the exits. The one true time to run when it comes to investing and markets is when you hear the term, hot tip... HOT TIP = FAKE NEWS 90% of the time.
    3. Discipline is key. OK, it’s bloody cliche’ish but the way to get better at something you love is to do it, over and over, then over again, practice (with intent) like crazy… put in the 10,000 hours, the 1,000 hours. Your inner happiness soars when you do something you never believed possible. Do the tough stuff first, then relax.
    4. People need to be complimented. The world is full of walking wounded – I see this constantly when I’m bartending at the Greek restaurant, or dicing and chopping at the soup kitchen. People’s inner voices dwell on the negative about themselves so often, but we can give a great gift to anyone. Remind your family members, friends, and even minor acquaintances of what they’re good at, what makes them special. I was a Microbiologist in my lab career, dwelling on the tiny points of life… nowadays I’m drilling in on the personal micro level… there are those who like to be acknowledged and recognized on the grand stage – the macro- and still others that prefer privacy and humbly favour a micro acknowledgement… I’m trying to live like a Microbiologist in my personal relations today. Simple e-mail notes of recognition or appreciation can be huge in a person’s day. I try to do a least a couple of these each week.
    5. Forget who you think you are or were. Don’t become trapped in a vision of “you” that was created when you were 20, or 30, or 40. Orange may be the new black and you may be the new “________” (you fill in the blanks). Letting the preconceived notions and concepts that have been drilled into us by our family, friends, and society shouldn’t prevent us from reinventing, reimagining who we are and can be. A scientist’s occupational life doesn’t rule out an artistic vision in later years. A bean counter can find rejuvenation in bean cooking. Throw the gates open and allow new ideas to filter through.  Kudos to Val who now fundraises for the Sally Ann, Jim who grows his own medicinal herb garden, Betty who tutors a young El Salvadorian woman, Chris who runs from soup kitchen cooking – to Critteraid – to Okanagan Gleaners that prepare and send dried soup mixes around the world. All new life episodes.
    6. Don’t complain, whine and bitch. For God’s sake, take responsibility. Your life is yours and no one else’s. The hardships (and successes too) are what make us stronger and more flexible and understanding and compassionate. Complaining breeds anger and distrust. Whining holds us back from taking the positive steps to improve and move forward. Bitching, well, bitching is mere manure oozing out of an angry, frustrated mind.
    7. Be a mentor and an intern. Help others along their path. Share your wisdom and expertise (with permission) with those who will listen gratefully. At the same time, drop your own ego and allow others to help you along your path. Both giving, and receiving wisdom and knowledge are gifts.
    8. Google is in my head. I’m getting older and my “hard drive” (in my head, not my pants!) is overstuffed like Grandpa’s armchair, which means it takes longer to access names and numbers and Jeopardy answers. But the beauty lies in letting my subconscious do its thing and find answers in its own time. When I relax and allow my mind to process, answers are magically floated to the surface. Google may be the fast food of today’s world, but my slow food is far more satisfying.

Keep learning and growing… after all the Serenity Prayer also says, “grant me the courage to change the things I can.“… that includes ourselves… one day I may even learn how to fold that *&^$% fitted sheet!… ah hell, maybe I’ll Google it!

google is my brain

The Man From A.B.I… or… D.R.O.Y.L.

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boy improving

Yeah, that title’s a wee bit of a stretch. I do that sometimes when I want to draw you into my message.

So here’s the message…

Always Be Improving… akaDon’t Rest On Your Laurels…

I was at the beach late yesterday afternoon – the off-white sand of Sunoka Beach is sweetly satisfying in the blazing hot Okanagan August sunshine – and was stunned when I spotted a group of 4 – one man and three women – in their beach chairs beneath a blue shade umbrella at water’s edge.

No, I wasn’t stunned because they were stretched out naked, airing out their naughty bits (although I was in the buff – ok, maybe not), but because each, instead of eyes down into their iPhone or Samsung device, were eyes down into … wait for it… a book. Cue the piercing screams.

Four people. Together. Every one of them. Submerged. In a book!

I tried hard not to stare. Really hard. I felt myself drawn in to the bizarre visual like some creepy Peeping Tom.

I couldn’t tell for sure but it didn’t look like they were studying their scriptures or 50 Shades of Grey. 

Maybe they were exploring. Maybe they were learning. Maybe they were improving.

The sight ran against my expectation, like seeing a camel casually loping down Main Street in Vancouver.

camel in town

I felt shocked. I felt shocked that I would feel shocked. But I felt pleased too.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with perusing your phone. Communication is a good thing – to a point.

But an amoeba won’t likely ever grow into a Homo Sapien if it never improves and becomes a greater entity than its parent, its grandparent.

We’d probably all be amoeba still if we only carried phones. Hmmmm…. do you think amoebae could have invented an iPhone?

…………….

Henry Winkler “the Fonz”, in a later episode of TV’s Happy Days, gifted us the expression jumped the shark, that moment when we’ve crossed the dividing line into devastation, certain oblivion.

But “Eey… Correct-amundo“… the Fonz didn’t allow a momentary defeat to shape his life trajectory.

Today? Well, Winkler doesn’t look at all like the cool Fonz anymore. He has made himself over into a new popular character Gene Cousineau on the HBO show Barry.

winkler then and now

Winkler says: “When I was 27, I knew who I wanted to be as an actor, at 72, I am getting closer.”

Winkler learned, studied and grew.

I’ve jumped the shark too many times to count. When I was 19 I knew I wanted to write songs. I tried but I wasn’t ready. I’m not 91 yet but I too am getting closer to what I want to be.

Whaddya mean, closer?

Learning and trying and growing is the gunpowder in my head. Learning is how I’m getting closer.

We all traverse the spectrum of our lives like a Russian nesting doll. At different points through the years we grow and change and “unnest” a new entity of ourselves that carries us forward. Da

I’ll never be the boy wonder I’d like to be, but the effort put in to improving just a tiny bit every day keeps me both juvenile and rejuvenated.

Let’s face it. I’m just you sitting here in this chair, watching a tiny ant wandering around the desk surface, typing away with my host of worries and insecurities and ideas and dreams. I have lots of weaknesses and so I reach out… to learn.

We all open our doors in the morning and bravely head off into the world in different directions, the places we lead our lives, the places – hopefully- we love and want to be.

Reading good books, practicing and developing our skills and interests, keeping a keen focus on the important and not the trivial, attempting to be as fearless as possible and not worrying so much about what others think of us when we attempt and fail…

It’s the pursuit of ABI or DROYL that matters. We all need a sense of purpose – the desire to learn and improve. It’s our Northern Star.

It doesn’t matter where your focus, your passion lies. Learning and growing, always improving, inspires an inner flame of enthusiasm.

Always Be Improving is a lovely way to open your eyes to the morning each day.

It can be as individual as your fingerprint, the pattern of your iris, or even a beautifully romantic, wintry snowflake.

And… exactamundo… it just don’t matter whether the ABI inspiration hits in the midst of a marathon run… lounging in the bath… waterskiing over a voracious sea predator… or yes, better yet … while stretched out naked in the sun.

reading while naked.jpg

The Investment Magic of Writing…

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“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
poet Mary Oliver

…………………..

music magic

I’m trying to become a musical magician but it hurts like an August sunburn…

I was a huge fan of Elton John in his early years… Yellow Brick Road, Candle In The Wind, Love Lies Bleeding, Tiny Dancer, Your Song… tons more.

Honestly though, much of Bernie Taupin’s lyrical imagery for John’s songs were beyond my ken (lack of hallucinogenic stimulants?) …

back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad…

What the hell is that? Intriguing, yes…

I dreamed and schemed of wearing weird multi-hued eyeglasses in my teens as if that would make me a super songwriter… NOPE!

Alright, eyeglasses aren’t the magical secret. So what is?

elton john glasses.jpg

Good writing, whether prose, poetry, lyrics, or music is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces that conjures magic from the ether.

But like any magic, it isn’t really magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand.

Good writing is hard work and when it reads or sounds easy to our ears and eyes, I know the crafter has worked the hardest of all.

Hemingway and Stephen King and Shakespeare and JK Rowling were/are no slouches at the art of writing. Imagination, imagery, metaphor.

Lennon and McCartney, JS Bach, Paul Simon, Antonio Vivaldi dedicated 10,000 hours and beyond to their efforts.

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery
She read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field… Paul Simon (America) 

Paul Simon takes us on a emotional journey in 8 lines of verse where the initial fun and exuberance of young love fades as they pass over the landscape… it’s simplicity that likely took him a month or more to write.

He could have told us the same story in 4 lines filled with cliche and “you and me” directness but instead filled our minds with storybook images.

………………………….

… magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand …

………………………….

Pretty much any of us can get lucky and write something of quality… something that’s meaningful and memorable… once.

Almost any person can line up a tee shot once in their life and hit a hole-in-one. But can they replicate it? Play the Vegas slots enough and one day a big winner will likely come your way. Once.

But the writers and musicians that make me want to kiss them and raise their children, are those that work past the “lucky” stage and consistently find ways of speaking to us that engage our head and our heart.

I used to think that inspiration was the key. So wrong.

Inspiration is a lazy verb… hell, it’s not EVEN a verb… how slothful is that?

David Ben, a former Toronto tax lawyer turned magician, has been an entertainer for almost 40 years and says he still rehearses several hours each day. Inspiration through dogged rehearsal.

Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel the same.

Inspiration is the feverish result of watching and listening and dreaming and pushing and pulling.

There’s an inquisitiveness aspect to magic-making where we drill in closely at a microscopic level trying to understand what it is that makes something work.

I’ve always been far too lazy or disinterested to understand how a car engine truly functions, or how a sail catches the wind in just the right way. I’d spend my 10,000 hours of learning in a bored-out-of-my-tree haze.

I hunger for magic that makes me jump up and down.

I unearth that feeling when I’m typing words, or picking out guitar notes.

But the inspiration usually only comes with time investment, which is really good for me as I jump up and down when I think of investment.

For the past two years I’ve invested time and thoughtful energy into a song, a song that I publicly previewed for the first time at an Open Mic in Oliver last night.

Two years investment. One song. Three musical minutes.

And it’s an investment – based on a lifetime of learning – that I look at… and as so often like with my financial investments, the end result isn’t quite as rich as I would like.

But that’s just being greedy.

It’s not the wondrous magic filled with fireworks that I dreamed of, but it is magic lite. 

And magical writing – wondrous or lite – is a process that goes nowhere without the sweat equity that makes any investment prosperous.

All these years later I’m still trying to become a musical magician, and damn if it still doesn’t hurt like an August sunburn…

 

Paper Rose photo (1).jpg

 

 

 

Divine Guidance or… Where The Muse Really Resides

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gods creativity

I heard a guy interviewed on the radio yesterday.

He said, I don’t know if any of us are actually creative.

I say… BULLSHIT!

Here’s some more of what he said… Steve Engels (Associate Professor of teaching- Computer Science -University of Toronto):

I don’t know if humans are creative sometimes.

I mean it’s the idea of creativity is something, well and I’ve studied is getting inventions or innovations. A lot of things that we create that are new are really inspired by things that we’ve seen before.

Very few people come up with something completely original in a vacuum. And so we find ways of combining and recombining things we’ve seen before and we do it in new and innovative ways. So we try to draw from that in order to come up with something that models human creativity.

But I don’t know. I mean I sometimes think the more we dig into this to try to figure out whether our A.I.’s are being truly creative the more we are questioning whether any of us are actually creative.

He just defined creativity while calling it “not creativity”.

I get where he’s coming from.

For most of us, creativity suggests making something from nothing; God-like lego assembly with no kit or instructions included.

But creativity can’t break the laws of physics any more than I can reject gravity… or banana cream pie.

This is my take.

Reality laws tell me that creativity is taking a million great ideas from every sector, every personal experience, every gender, every religion, every song, every story, every invention….

…. then tossing it all into a blender and whizzing it around like Dorothy’s house cannonading from Kansas to Oz… until a “new” concoction comes frothing up that no one has ever seen before.

Sara Blakely did that.

“I look at any object and try to think of any use it has other than what people had planned for it.”

And then she acted on it. She saw a pair of pantyhose, cut off the feet and created a multi-billion dollar company, Spanx. 

That’s creative, isn’t it?

Spanx men

The most creative of modern musician/songwriters like Brian Wilson and Hank Williams and George Harrison freely admit to consciously or sub-consciously borrowing ideas from other songwriters in their music.

Harrison’s My Sweet Lord has the same chorus melody line as The Chiffons’ He’s So Fine. But it’s not the same song.

When I sit and strive to write a meaningful song with lyrics, melody and harmony that meld together as a coherent whole, I’m not starting from scratch (even though it feels like it!) Oh no…..

I draw on that old Idea Sex where I lay out a recipe card that mashes together my love of country and folk and classical: a teaspoon of Keith Urban, a cup of James Taylor, a pinch of Civil Wars’ guitar work and a dollop of Mary Chapin Carpenter-type imagery.

Paul Simon, Tommy Emmanuelle, Eric Clapton, Valdy and Lady Antebellum are all crowded around peering over my shoulder too, pointing a finger here and there as guidance.

Even Bach, Beethoven and Mozart didn’t create something from nothing. They thought they were receiving divine inspiration from above, but really it was their peers and ghosts of the past that silently infiltrated their writing quills.

They were inspired and molded by a profusion of others’ “creativity”.

In turn they inspired dozens of generations afterwards.

I recently finished a book titled “How To Fly A Horse“, by Kevin Ashton. Ashton relates that all creative ideas are built on the shoulders of hundreds and hundreds of generations of talented, motivated, creative people. Each generation adds more blocks to the structure of art and architecture and every other field of progress.

Steve Jobs didn’t wake up one day from a halcyon dream and decide out of nowhere about designing the iPhone.

It took millennia for thousands of engineers and inventors and dreamers to bring us to the magical moment where Jobs could creatively piece together something that has revolutionized and altered our world tremendously.

Funny-Iphone-02

Creativity is really about taking a whole bunch of lego sets and instead of building the structure pictured on the outside of the box, we use our childlike imagination and life’s experiences to make a new construct that no one else has envisioned in its totality.

Creativity is hard work. Exhaustingly hard.

Inspiration is only the start line and the end result lies a sweaty-hard one hundred metres down the track… sometimes 42.2 kilometres. Not everyone who lines up in the blocks makes it to the finish line.

But those who don’t put in the effort and time to try (yes YODA, there IS try…) will never triumph.

God doesn’t pick a favourite football team to win and the Muse picks no favourites to be creative.

She sits in her beach chair waiting patiently at the finish line, sipping chilly Pinot Gris, cheering and begging us forward but never lending a hand to draw us the last few metres.

It’s inside of us.

That’s what divine creative guidance is all about Charlie Brown.

Julie Moss Ironman

Julie Moss crawls across Ironman finish line in 1982…

 

 

Are You Winning The Wind Game?

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March Wind

March wind is a jolly fellow;
He likes to joke and play.
He turns umbrellas inside out
And blows men’s hats away.

He calls the pussy willows
And whispers in each ear,
“Wake up you lazy little seeds;
Don’t you know that spring is here?”

kites.jpg

March is the month of wind.

As a kid I awoke in the morning reminded of the sky-high possibilities of kite flying in the raging breath of March breezes.

It was time for me and my buddies to put down our beat-up hockey sticks and bring out fresh diamond kites as well as those weird contraptions called box kites that I could never figure how to fly.

Lion winds. Hobo winds.

Cold winds, warm winds.

No winds, sunny winds.

I’m a big boy now and March in the Okanagan Valley this year has been full of rain and largely free of gales, but the metaphorical winds remain steadfast and perennial.

Wind – like a lot of things in life – is how we come to see and feel it rather than how it comes to us… how we perceive the breezes and gusts.

Every day can feel like an eternity of wind, which can be a bastard… or a sweetheart.

So, what’s your score? how did the wind blow in your world this week?

scoreboard

Here’s how I perceived and scored my game winds this week…

  • Run Training: In early morning semi-darkness I shouldered into a stiff south wind on the backside of the running track. It slapped and cursed me in the face and chest each time around the track… I cursed back. And in the end, I ran harder and still zipped around the course at the pace I had assigned myself, gasping for air as I reached the finish stripe on the track.

I overcame and still won.

Two days later I finished an indoor (no wind!) 8 k tempo training run (in preparation for May’s Vancouver Half Marathon) a minute faster than my goal time. Another small victory.

SCORE: Me 1, Wind 0.

  • Tutoring: I sat next to my Syrian friend, struggling with the trials of teaching him English. We have heaps of fun together but the winds were so strong this week that we seemed to take one step forward, then 2 steps back. I searched for calm eddies and ideas where I could pass the message into his head so that he may one day soon find quality work and support his young family in this new and foreign country. He wants it badly and I want it for him… but…

I concede that the wind won the struggle this week as my student could barely remember how to spell his own name in English. Vowels be accursed.

Score: Me 1, Wind 1.

  • Cooking: There was a cantankerous wind in the soup kitchen line this week when one of the patrons pulled out a needle and prepared to shoot up his fix just 3 spots from the serving window.

The other patrons in line let out yelps of panic and angry disgust. Who could blame them?

Score a point for each side here as we gently ushered him outdoors to finish his “work”… he scored a hit in a private, safe place… we even delivered him a sandwich and dessert outside… and the other guests in line remained safe and well fed.

Sad story and a sad Tie.

Score: Me 2, Wind 2.

  • Performing: I played my guitar at a new place in town on Tuesday night. A restaurant/pub-by kind of place.

There were lots of stiff noise winds… the sounds of loud drinking voices and general restaurant hubbub. The sound system was sub-par which made performing and drawing in the audience a wee bit o’ a bitch.

On the plus side, those who were listening to us sing were loudly enthusiastic and positive. Also, the trial of noise and poorer sound quality were good tests of our ability to concentrate and focus on the music despite the obstacles.

The song lived on and that fugly wind storm lost this battle.

Score: Me 3, Wind 2.

strong wind

Wind can be exhausting or exhilarating, yes? Sometimes both at the same moment.

OK, I narrowly escaped with a win this past week as the last winds of March faded away. My lion ate the lamb which makes me a terrible vegan.

Winter winds are shrivelling quickly and we can feel the revving of the summer T-bird, a wind with its own personality and presence.

Inner success is feeling those winds blow, knowing that they’ve come to test you, then turning up your powers and buckling down to overcome and turn tears into smiles.

The wind is a friend that can dress like an enemy… a sweetheart that looks like a bastard…

The score in the game of wind is all in our perception.

Perception

The FOCUS of My Love and Hate

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focus.jpg

OMG… could I be more distracted?

Don’t answer that. Of course I could.

I love this new world. I hate this new world.

I love… I hate… I love… I hate…

  • I love that I can learn about anything or nothing at all at the drop of a hat because I have access to almost every brilliant (or demented) mind that has breathed air on this earth.
  • I love that I can read every poetic line penned, listen to every musical song written, the original artist or a dozen cover versions…
  • I love that I can book a trip, buy a book, sell a stuffed moose, give away a cat, check my APPLE stock dividend payment, order a pizza, study screenwriting with Aaron Sorkin, download a detailed guitar tab for Please Come to Boston.
  • And yes, I love that I can see Hillary Clinton naked (those photos aren’t Photoshopped, are they?), if I feel my carnal desire arising.

… all from the very spot where I sit writing this blog post… in total comfort, with a steaming hot latte at my right elbow, Cali cat warmly schnoozing at my feet (I have a cat to give away if you’re interested! Sorry Cali…)

How many historic kings would have deliriously surrendered their castles for such indulgence?

  • I hate that I’m able to do all of the things above because it keeps me from working away for 1,000 or 10,000 hours on the stuff that’s key to my inner thrive, my need for productivity, my drive towards goals and desires. The internet well has no bottom, no end, it defines infinity in our everyday more vividly than contemplating the cosmos with a telescope. It’s a rogue thief that I don’t lock my doors against.
  • I hate that I struggle to finish reading a book… hell, I often struggle to finish a chapter in a book because my ADHD mind goes off like crazed fireworks in all directions and before I know it I’m scanning a web recipe for Penne alla Vodka or The World’s Best Chocolate Cake.

Throughout history, the world has been filled with artisans and specialists who dedicated their brief mortal lifetimes to mastering their craft, whether it was writing, or masonry, or ballet, basically any form of technical or creative endeavour that struck a chord.

Today this is hugely challenging.

And yes, we all know the answer why…

It takes a uniquely special and focused person to tune out the myriad distractions that fill us up with Facebook videos/messages and Instagram posts and e-mail memes, games and puzzles and “forwards” and “cc”s.

FOCUS is unsentimental and stern, like a nun with a ruler in her hand. FOCUS doesn’t care if you love her.

I want to write songs badly (but not BAD songs!). Well-written songs are beautiful children that bring us smiles and deep warmth, comfort in the evening’s twilight.

songwriting

In my imagination I view myself, Walter Mitty-like, laser-focused, moving forward, writing songs based on inspirational ideas that come to me in the middle of the night, in that wonderful dark room inside my head where my dream life is less distracted.

Certainly, writing a blog post takes a moderate degree of focus. In fact, writing these posts is one exercise I crave to keep my head grounded in concentrated reality.

But composing a song is a different level of focus, the difference between simple arithmetic and challenging algebra.

Musical writing … composing… is a multitask activity that gathers the need for lyrical, poetic inspiration interbred with musical melody and harmony.

It links back to the idea of musical prosody… melody and rhythm and lyrics that embrace like young lovers in a masterpiece that makes us believe the words and music are as one… inseparable and shallow without the other.

But that’s my imagination.

My reality is less idealistic, more scattered, more ordinary and everyday… more in sync with the current technology schizophrenia that traps many of us.

There are lists all over magazine covers and the internet with apparently simple answers to the puzzle that is focus…. Live Your Legend- 11 Steps to Insane Focus: Do More of What Matters …  8 Ways To Improve Your Focus – Fast Company … 12 Ways To Be More Focused And Get More Things Done Quickly. 

But MY best answer to this faraway bewildered quandary is my plain old non-technical caffeine and a daily TO DO List. And if a messy, paper-cluttered desk is any indication of a genius mind, Einstein and I could be twins.

The bottom line is we know FOCUS is hard work. F-words have a way of getting under our skin and stirring us up.

So even though I occasionally grouse about distractions – our love/hate relationship – the truth is I love this time and place where technology is sometimes taxing but ultimately an amazing perk… a creative self-care gift basket.

computer kid

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