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No Jabba the Hutt For Me…

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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!

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What Language Will You Learn in 2019?

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Merry Xmas language.jpg

Son of a Moose!

It’s so simultaneously frustrating and delightful… I know you’re speaking English, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.

And it’s not only because I’ve been drinking myself into an every-waking-moment anti-Trump sh*thole – OK, guilty as charged… but…

I love languages…  a kaleidoscope of colour and nuance and beauty in the form of words and the way they’re strung together. The phrase-work of Venus and Shakespeare.

I guess that’s why I enjoy writing this blog so much.

How many languages do you speak?

No, not Punjabi or Portuguese or Cree. If you can speak any of these, I am super-impressed and orgasmically jealous, but…

No matter your answer because we’re all multilingual.

Let me explain.

Just to be Christian seasonal, I’m pretty fluently Christmaslingual, but not Hannukahlingual or Diwalilingual … in my laboratory working life I was Blood-cellslingual and Bacterialingual but not fluent at all in Orthopedicese or Oncologese.

Different languages… in each stage of our lives we learn new languages, the words and phrases and acronyms that are confusing to most, yet have meaning to others surrounding us with whom we share a common bond.

In my days of working in hospital labs in Yellowknife or Comox or William’s Lake I would be called to SURG125 to draw a CBC for a TUPR on a patient with BPH to be done STAT.

Got that? Makes perfect sense if you speak LABese, right? You’ve had the same experience in whatever field you’ve travelled en-route to your livelihood.

This year I’ve been a “life coach” to a Syrian refugee family that needs assistance with the discombobulated convolutions of government and institutional bureaucracy. It’s been a crash course in a new set of language skills.

No matter how much French I learned in the classrooms of high school or Spanish in a language school in Cusco, Peru, I’m unprepared yet exhilarated by the onslaught of vocabulary needed to be effective or even understood in this latest incarnation of my life.

So while learning and understanding national languages is wonderful, adding to the richness of our existence, so too is learning a new “language” within our own tongue.

The fine-tuning of our brains needs the stretch of unknown unknowns that later become the known knowns.

In 2018, in addition to bureaucracy language I dangled my tongue in the tepid new language waters of:

  • Vegan cooking
  • Music production and recording
  • Non-lab related medical issues
  • Different music styles and tastes
  • Skate-style Cross-country skiing
  • Tai Chi
  • Parachuting

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Some new words that graced my tongue in 2018: AUG Funding and Permanent Resident Card, TVP (Texturized Vegetable Protein) and Cashew Cream, EQ and Normalization, Fenestration and Intracystic Septation, Fragile Chords and Pentatonic Scales, Diagonal Skate and Double Pole, Pushing Hands, Reserve Handle and Canopy.

When you think over your own past year of activity and events, what new words were added to your vocabulary? What levels of understanding became a part of who you are? What were the stretches of language you encountered along your journey?

With only a few days left in 2018, I’m searching my mind, trying to foresee, like the Spirit of Christmas Yet-To-Come, the vocabulary that will define the year 2019 for me.

But honestly, I have no idea where the path will lead… which languages will find a place in my lexicon.

Perhaps I’ll merely live by the words of lovably cantankerous Ebenezer Scrooge:

Ghost of the Future … But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart.”

And finally, as we draw close to the day of Christmas and the sight of a new year, a new beginning:

And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!’’

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8 Things I’ve Learned At Age 60+

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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

Surprises, Epiphanies, And Seeds.

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seeds

In 1977 I had a life changing-, life expanding-epiphany.

The epiphany? I had choices. WE have choices. 

Seeds.

I had just recently left my teen years, turning 20 years old, a freshly minted college grad… thick, dark hair and a future of limitless potential, but…

… I didn’t know that I had choices. Really?

I knew there were boxes I could open that contained minor differences, but the general course of my life was pre-determined as if I were some young Amish kid.

Pre-determined similarly to 50 years earlier when girls had free choice to be anything they wanted, you know, either… teacher or nurse. Woo Hoo!

Choice?

Not real, life changing choices where I raised the jib and held the rudder. Choices that let me contain and control the wind.

Foolishly, I didn’t know that until I picked up the phone one late September morning and a lady on the other end of the line said:

“Larry, this is Marg Ramsden in Yellowknife. We received your resume for a lab job and we’d like you to come and work for us.”

Yellowknife! Yellowknife?

Did I really send a resume to Yellowknife? What was I thinking? Yellowknife?

Arctic-ice-cold-dark-winter-night-isolated-Eskimo-territory Yellowknife? (remember, Eskimo was a happily acceptable term for the Inuit in 1977).

Then… I was offered another lab position that very same day in the Hamilton hospital lab Blood Bank where I had interned.

That was the box I was conditioned to expect.

Obviously an easy decision, right? At least I thought so.

Nice big city 600-bed hospital job crossmatching blood vs. tiny cold remote northern 72-bed hospital where I’d cover all the lab departments (hospital labs usually encompass Blood Bank, Haematology, Microbiology, Histology and Biochemistry).

Why would I trade the familiar homey scent of Hamilton smog and my “Oskey Wee Wee” Tiger Cat football team for belligerent black flies, murderous mosquitoes and -45C temperatures?

Then I surprised myself.

Yup, there can be unexpected earth-tremors along our journey.

Surprise. Life changing.

Yes, I burned away the easy choice and nervously put myself onboard a Pacific Western Airlines (PWA) Boeing 737 in Toronto that touched down first in Edmonton, then in Yellowknife, on a chill October Arctic evening as lovely tiny snowflakes fell.

I was so isolated and naive in my little world that I had tried to book a flight on TWA (TransWorld Airlines) instead of PWA … the TWA agent had no idea what the hell a “Yellowknife” was… I had no idea what the hell a “PWA” was.

My palace was shattered like a beach sandcastle hit by a rogue wave, but I only realized that in retrospect.

That was the first seed.

crumbling palace

As I slowly grew acclimatized and comfortable in this foreign northern life, my slightly older roommate kept talking about the great time he’d had travelling throughout Europe a couple years back. I would never do that. Never.

Of course, my roommate did a lot of crazy things like drinking an entire bottle of beer while standing on his head at parties.

I’d never try that either. NEVER.

But the seed was planted.  No, not THAT seed! I’ve never quaffed a beer while standing on my head.

Head stand beer.jpg

And so, two years later in 1979 I backpacked my way throughout Western Europe. (a few years ago, I wrote about an unusual event from that trip in another post.)

Another seed.

That was a surprise. Never ever dreamed of doing that until I did.

It was slowly dawning on me that the choices in my life were mine to make if I only opened my head to possibility… oh yeah, that and… conquering the fear factor, just like I conquered (OK, conquered may be too strong a word… I edged by…) the fear factor in jumping out of an airplane a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve enjoyed gardening, sowing and tending beautiful flowers and vegs and fruits since I was a wee gopher. I know, weird kid!

Once you become a gardener and can finally see that seeds are what grow into luscious plants that nourish us, well, you begin paying attention and looking for seeds to blow into your yard.

Some seeds turn out to be weeds that are ugly and beg to be pulled and composted. Out, damned spot! out, I say!

But then other seeds land lightly, push through the fresh earthy humus and put on an amazing display like you’ve never ever seen.

These are the seeds and plants you tenderly water and provide nutrients so that artistic natural beauty is of your own making.

Choices are the seeds that we can select to make into our life art.

Not every seed is a ravishing stunner, a scented rose, a splendiferous bougainvillea, but we can’t always tell the beauties from the rejects until we give them a try.

As John Denver sang, “… some days are diamonds, some days are stone…“… or why not a bit more bluntly from Mary Chapin Carpenter, “… sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug…”

A tiny example? Sure. More recently, a small seed that’s become a beautiful bloom for me has been tutoring a young Syrian fellow.

While he thanks me profusely, believing that I’m giving him a big jump in his new calmer world in Canada, in reality, we’re both gardeners that are enjoying the fruitful benefits of expanding our worlds.

The laughter we share when he knows he’s being mischievous in English and whispers the “F” word with a sly grin reminds me of how interconnected and similar we all are despite the huge differences.

I’ve had lots of surprises and epiphanies and seeds that drifted into my sightlines over the years.

My eyes may be growing older, but in some surprising ways, I can see better now than I ever have in my life.

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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…

…………….

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.

lightning

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…

old lady guitar.jpg

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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I … Movie Maker

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MGM Lion.jpg

FADE IN:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even a bad movie inspires me in some way.

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

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

Inspiration is always the first step.

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

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

And yet. I feel the welling of inspiration.

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

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

For a while.

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

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

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

Aaron Sorkin: Screenwriting

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

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

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

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

West wing

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

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

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

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

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

We watch and grow in microscopic increments.

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

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

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

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

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

FADE OUT.

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Are You Reeling In The Years?

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Time passing painting

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

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

Steely Dan

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

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

This is good news and bad news.

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

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

Inspector Clouseau

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

Infinite jest. Time and years.

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

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

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

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

That was then.

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

HELP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

woan with dog at sunset

Skills = Pleasure

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Skills & Pleasure.

I could be talking sex here… alright… I AM thinking sex here. But I’ll talk about something else, OK?

Guitar, cooking, writing, bartending, tennis, dancing, gardening, chess, biking, languages, investing, birdwatching, chocolate tasting. So many more…

Skills and knowledge; they elevate us and make us more as humans. Our lives are stories, and those areas where we thrive and grow and excel within are those that bring pleasure… and exhilaration to our story.

I crave endorphins. I love the rush, the feeling of ambrosia, beauty inside, excitement. I don’t get it from gambling in casinos, or buying lottery tickets, or injecting heroin.

I get it by doing and learning new skills.

I’m working on one right now that I never knew or even believed existed until recently.

I love playing my songs at Open Mic nights. I was on stage performing 4 songs last night: one I wrote, and one Harry Chapin tune for David because David loves ole Harry.

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My Ole Friend Harry…

Sure, it scares me. Sure, loose bowels, yada yada… but I’m doing something I really really enjoy and it’s an intense learning experience.

I’m studying the art of reading the audience to suss out what works and what doesn’t. Stand-up comedians like Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld do this all the time.

I used to think that playing the guitar reasonably well was my core strength – my manly muscle flex – and the singing part of my performance was something peripheral that folks just had to yawn about and tolerate to make the song complete.

At Open Mic I watch and wonder at Richard K. when he’s on stage. He’s an eccentric. He’s an unabashed performer, a Johnny Winter lookalike with a snowy white mane contrasted against classy black suit jacket and pants.

When Richard sings, he opens his mouth like a ferocious ocean storm, gaping wide and projecting from the calluses of his foot soles. Singing is Richard’s full body workout. It’s mesmerizing to watch as his voice pours out like a lion’s roar. I watch… and learn.

I’ve always regarded my own voice as mundane and choirboy-like, too buttery. I have dances in my dreams of parking some Kenny Rogers gravel or Keith Urban Down-Under twang in my throat.

But I’m finding that more and more often, I get compliments on my singing. Some of it is generous fatuous flattery.

However… lately… I’m coming around to the idea that there may be more to it.

EPIPHANY!

epiphany2

Now, I’m starting to unbelievably believe that it’s the singing that’s my strength.

Have you ever read or heard about Frank Sinatra, and how he made a song uniquely special with his pacing and delivery of the lyrics? Sinatra wrote the book on musical phrasing.

It didn’t mean anything to me when I heard that.  How could it be? It’s merely words sung to a melody line, right?… simple, straightforward.

But no other popular singer has ever known better the combined value of exacting diction and conversational delivery. No one before Sinatra seemed to know where the deliberate pause would paint the greatest emotional impact.

Sinatra was perhaps an intuitive musician, but he was also, I believe, an analytical, scientific singer too. He knew that to inflect a word or a syllable can shift the rhythm and increase the genuineness of a lyric, and can also wash attention over an especially attractive melodic phrase.

Subtlety. Nuance.

OK, so I’m a convert. Now I evangelize as if I wander the streets passing out Watchtower pamphlets. Hallelujah.

I’ve heard scads of singers who have pleasant voices and can stay on key and – OMG, if you can’t sing on key, please get off the stage and go join Boney M and drag your fingers down someone else’s blackboard – yet don’t understand musical phrasing.

Roberta Flack had phrasing. Freddie Mercury had phrasing. Adele has phrasing in spades… her voice and cadence betrays her frailty and, by extension, her humanity. It’s a skill.

No doubt you can think of a dozen singers that insinuate themselves inside you with the timing and pacing of their approach to lyrics. You may not be aware of the effect, but it happens, trust me.

When I practice a song these days, I’ll play it over and over again, and then once more. Jackson Browne would do this for hours on end when he lived in the basement suite below the Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey in L.A. years ago.

Each time I play the song I’m working on, for example, the popular song Let Her Go by Passenger, I’ll try out many different interpretations, and work on timing and nuances within the lyric lines.

Eventually, I unearth a pattern that, to me, extracts the most emotional impact from the poetic words and rhythm. Skills and pleasure.

Pleasure Guitar 2

Subtlety. Nuance.

Learning through practice and concentrated effort brings me a feeling of nirvana… satisfaction … and… intense pleasure.

You’ve felt this powerful perception in your world when you put in your best effort and surrendered to the sensation. The soaring awareness of endorphin-packed execution wraps you in a blissful tranquility.

We’re all a complex bundle of simplicity and complexity, perpetually incomplete humans in all areas: physical, spiritual, emotional. Our desires will never be fully answered, nor should they be.

But when I’m always ready to learn a new skill, or improve an old one, I’m once again in my “beginner’s mind”, and like a tiny child, I hold that shiny object over my head, and wonder at all that it holds…

Now that’s pleasure.

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The Art of Focus… Never a Better Time… Pay The Price Now…

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Focus Art

The unthinkable is TRUE… it’s happening…

OMG… you can learn and excel at anything… ANYTHING… you’ve ever dreamed of and not have to leave your home.

You can get the best, most expert, most expensive instruction on:

  • screenwriting
  • acting
  • golfing
  • piano playing
  • knitting and sewing
  • furniture making
  • philosophy
  • bird identification
  • cake decorating
  • Romanian language 
  • basketball layups
  • doing an artfully erotic striptease…

banana-striptease

ANYTHING… it’s all there just waiting for you and me to dive in…

The internet has given me alone tutorials on songwriting, french language skills, grammar and the Oxford comma, concrete finishing, ancient history, beef roast cooking, SQL computer coding, chicken raising, growing better tomatoes, running a faster half marathon (fat chance!), and on and on.

I’ve had James Taylor in my home office patiently instructing me, coaching me on how to do everything from tuning a guitar well to proper picking form in Fire and Rain .

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will happily come into your home, you don’t even have to offer them a cup of tea, and give you driving instructions.

……………….

To be deeply philosophical about it, or more likely just to fool you into believing that I’m smart or something… all of the atoms in the universe have been cycled and recycled, combined and recombined over millions and billions of years, and somehow, by fate or whatever, you and I were fabricated from a mere dusting of these fragments and particles.

It’s a miracle really; a miracle that justifies something great and noteworthy, don’t you think?

But dear friend… it’s the best of times and… it’s the worst of times.

Because there are so many distractions, maybe fewer of us than ever are actually doing these amazing, diverse things… or at least doing them well. Good morning, this is your wake-up call...

I’ve struggled mightily all my life with mediocrity – boo hoo, poor entitled lad – you know… Jack of All Trades, Master of None.  

For the most part I’ve actually happily embraced being so-so at almost everything I do, rationalizing that because I do a bucketload of varied things with my time, that I can ditch the worry about doing anything really well.

CHANGE.

My thinking has and is changing … let’s see, my fellow Canadian JT (Justin Trudeau) has changed his thinking on electoral reform, and even Donald Trump has changed his thinking on China as a currency manipulator.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s OK for Larry Green to change his thinking on mediocrity in every area of his life (hmmmm, talking about yourself in the third person is a sign of encroaching narcissism, I’d better look up some remedial therapy courses online).

To be good or great, you have to hone the skills, spend the 1,000 hours… the 10,000 hours to become “special”.

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I’ve talked about this before, and I hate to be a nag, but in a world that makes learning so easy, and concentrated focus so challenging, it bears repeating.

When I – drooling over sexy music porn – watch Tommy Emmanuelle or Keith Urban play their guitar, the first thought that passes through my brain like a crawler at the bottom of the news channel screen, is, “I could never do that“.

WRONG… they became that good by… practice… practice… and more practice.

Your wise old Mom was right when she told you to sit at the piano bench, practicing your lessons for a half hour every day.

I, and similarly, you, have the ability if we’re willing to pay the price.

If I’m willing to commit hours, months, and years, I can do it.

It’s about committing to something you enjoy tremendously and making the effort, the hard, concentrated effort, to learn and progress and accept the difficulties and failures that come with slow, uneven progress.

It’s about The Art of Focus.

It’s about a willingness to say NO more often, no to the distractions and outside influences, and sitting yourself down to do the hard, often lonely, but ultimately pleasurable work of making something magical within yourself.

It’s about the inner feeling of goodness and creative spark that comes with a pat-yourself-on-the-back sense of mastery.

This beautiful blue planet we inhabit for such a painfully short time has evolved over millions of years to the point where, today, most of us rarely fear for our mortal lives or tremble about starvation, where crippling diseases are at a lesser tide than any time in history, where work days usually conclude after 8 or 10 hours, and weekends are for our own pleasure.

We’ve come to bat at the sweet spot in time and circumstance. HOME RUN territory.

I’ll cock my head, glance up into the bright sunshine, scratch some fine dirt beneath my cleats and rub my crotch for good luck.

The once almost unthinkable moment has arrived and you and I can decide for ourselves if these moments we’re allotted are meant for watching the world happen to us, or we happen to the world.

The internet gives us the gift of choice where we can be sucked into an intoxicating whirlpool of dullness, and a diet of artificial Twinkies, or… a tsunami of wonder and a dramatic reaching for the elegant twinkling of the stars.

Grammatically, an incomplete sentence is one where either a subject (YOU) or a verb (YOU doing something) is missing.

Every complete sentence has a subject (YOU) and a verb (YOU doing something).

YOU doing something is a complete sentence in a life fully lived.

You guessed it. I learned that from a grammar lesson I took online…

keith urban brad pasisley guitar

 

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