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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

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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

Mountain View From My Cluttered Mind

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Peeing superheroes.jpg

Now, mountaineering for me has been the motivator, the initiator, that keeps me from falling asleep in life. I say that because I tend to find, now I’ve turned 40, myself getting into this waking sleep that I notice a lot of people do down here. I think we all need initiators or motivators to remind us again and again what we’re capable of and to remind us of those ideals that we hold close to our hearts. 

Laurie Skreslet

Don’t give me MARVEL or DC comic heroes, no Spiderman, Black Widow or Iron Man, no Han Solo or Indiana Jones.

NO! Not for this earthly mortal.

I crush only on true flesh and blood heroes… YES! I kiss real inspirationists (my new word!)

Many years back I attended a medical lab conference where the Keynote speech featured a motivational talk by Canadian mountain climber Laurie Skreslet.

I shuffled into the large conference hall for the breakfast talk – caffeine had barely begun seeping into my bloodstream – with low expectations.

An hour later I bounced from the room loaded with fireworks and energy, piss and vinegar.

A superb speaker and motivator, Skreslet gave me spiritual CPR with his words and photos that morning.

Skreslet didn’t just present himself as a man of theoretical ideas. Do this. Do that… Rah-rah!

I love inspiration but not from false prophets. No Kardashians, no Gweneth Paltrows, no pretenders or theorists. Doers are my inspiration.

Laurie Skreslet was the first Canuck to successfully scale muscular Mount Everest (1982), although in the process, 4 others perished in the notoriously treacherous Khumbu Icefall section of the climb.

He was a man of action and persistence. He was a man who walked his talk. He set himself a huge goal and never wavered with unflagging courage and determination.

Strangely, he became an early hero of mine even though I’ve never attempted a true mountain climb in my life.

Oh sure, I once nearly reached the summit of B.C.’s Mount Cheam (2,104 m (6,903 ft)) but my wife and I chickened out when a crawl along a narrow ledge with 2,000 m of unobstructed air beneath was required. Craggy mountain hikes that require a change of underwear are not in my wheelhouse.

Sure, I’ve hiked to the top of Scotland’s Ben Nevis (1,345 m (4,411 ft.)), the UK’s tallest mountain.

Sure, I’ve inched my way up the glaciers well above Interlaken and Grindelwald, Switzerland.

Sure, I’ve strolled at much higher elevations in Peru (hell, for almost 4 months, we lived and breathed the thin air of Cusco which sits at 3,399 m (11,150 ft.)).

But… none of those compare with a minute on deadly Mt. Everest.

Mountains make great metaphors. Beauty and danger are unnerving and explosive.

Mountains are something we can all picture and understand. Mountains are a superb symbol for human striving, goal setting and achievement, coping and surviving.

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We all have our own mountain(s)…. and each of us is perched at a different spot on our mountain. The view from the mountain is unique for every person.

Mountains are climbed every minute  – physical accomplishments, cancer, accidents, deformities and disabilities, school, work, charity.

Mountains are precarious and dangerous.

In my own sphere of hero worship and mountain climbing, I’ve seen the awkward stumbles of Lance Armstrong, Woody Allen, Tiger Woods, JFK, Bill Clinton… people whose accomplishments I admire.

Real life heroes, unlike most of the comic book superheroes, are mere mortals filled with angst and weakness in other arenas of their lives. They don’t always clean their room before saving the world.

I spend a good part of my time on the lookout for heroes that help me up my mountain… inspirational men and women who live a life of wonder and discovery and reinvention.

World leaders, scientists, athletes, writers, artists, religious leaders, inventors, composers, philanthropists, musicians, physicians, teachers, judges… or… sometimes I put on a pedestal those I see as decent, respectful, compassionate, empathetic, generous, tolerant, humble, responsible, trustworthy.

One thing I’ve learned is that the inspirationalist should be admired for the inner strength and accomplishments that spurred them to excellence. This is what they bring to our table for us to emulate and model.

Admiration of the hero for their personal magnetism or impressive character is too often a set-up for disappointment.

With the #MeToo movement afoot, we’re seeing this on display over and over and over again. So let’s stop being foolish and hitching our wagons to the “beauty and wonder” of the hero’s personality and goodness.

Love the action, not the actor. Worship the heroic, not the hero.

Heroes pee and poop and fumble and crawl. They just so happen to also do miraculous deeds.

I still have my long list of folks I admire… their heroics are my energy source, the protein in my inspiration diet.

A short list today?: Tim Ferriss (author and life experimenter), Chris G (local soup kitchen crazy chef), Aaron Sorkin and Nora Ephron (movie/TV screenwriters), Brenda M (eternally bright Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferer), Stephen King (author), Cathie R (empathetic novel idea generator), James Taylor (tireless musical performer), Tommy Emmanuel (guitarist extraordinaire), Majed A (Syrian ESL student/optimist). The list is fluid and dynamic.

 

……………….

Laurie Skreslet stood briefly atop his mountain. Then he climbed back down and continues climbing other mountains to this day.

I celebrate his heroics and the inspiration he has given me to climb my own metaphorical mountains.

Celebrate your accomplishments. Celebrate the strength that gets you through the minutes, hours, and days of an injury or serious health issue. Celebrate the fact that you find a way to overcome the fear that could paralyze.

It’s wondrous to do things you haven’t done before or that you were afraid of doing, and it deserves a pat on the back… and a visit to the pub or the teahouse (or chocolate aisle!) when you’re done.

You ARE capable of much more than you think. We all are.

… I think very few of us in our life are ever lucky enough to get a glimpse of what we are actually capable of doing and I think in a sense we’re all climbers in a way. Perhaps my mountains are more of the mountains of deprivation, hardship, cold–maybe your mountains are mountains of planning, preparation, mountains of endeavour as it were…

Laurie Skreslet

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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

…………….

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

…………….

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

…………….

• 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

…………….

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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