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Forget Me Nots …

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Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play

Leonard Cohen – Tower of Song

Leonard Cohen may have been talking about something a bit more lusty and sensual, but memory and memories are the playground where a lot of us go to work and play …. and sometimes ache.

When surrounded by my peers – mostly around my age +/- 10 years – almost without exception, they occasionally complain and worry about memory loss:

• loss of individual words on the tip of their tongues.

• loss of short term “what did I do yesterday” stuff (or my personal favourite: where are my keys/glasses).

• loss of long ago activities that can jumble things together so that a ten year time span feels like only one day in retrospect.

And they worry…

Memories long and troubled…

memories short and sweet …. memories lie inside us as a novel or a tweet

What was I saying? oh yes… Memory. My fading memory…

But, know what? I’m not worried about it… yet…

I don’t want to discount dementias and Alzheimer’s, and the terrible brain pathologies that truly only know the arithmetic of subtraction.

No, today I’m talking about the everyday person which likely includes you and me.

I’m not an expert in the area of memory… it’s not profound thinking here today but light verse… I merely have an opinion based on my own personal observations, which is not very scientific of this guy who spent years in a white lab coat (Larry, were the arms wrapped and tied on this white coat?).

Here’s something silly… It’s astounding the memories that stay with us at the top of the heap; the minor inconsequential vs. the momentous and life-shattering.

I clearly remember my Mom’s chocolate chip cookies from the 1960’s. We all know that chocolate chip cookies are crack cocaine to kids, right?

I see them, I smell them, I share them with my little friends.

In retrospect, they weren’t fantastic cookies (certainly not as good as the ones my wife makes today!)… but I can only believe that I remember this so well because they were a symbol of what she meant to me… after all, what is more comforting in life than a mother’s love and warm, chocolate chip cookies?

Here’s my take on memory slippage, you decide if I’m on track or not: The arithmetic and multiplication effect of aging, and the sheer volume of memories is flabbergasting.

Each added day, month, and year of our lives piles another layer of images and words and deeds… layer upon layer upon layer.

Plus, the world is more complex today with the inclusion of exponentially growing volumes of internet-based data, some of which we attempt to absorb.

Finally, on top of this, realize that our language is evolving, so much so, that the Oxford English Dictionary, on average, adds more than a thousand new words to the lexicon every single year. OMG, where are my glasses?

Bottom line folks: our heads, our brains, our “hard drives” (again, not to be confused with Leonard Cohen’s lyric lines above) are more and more overloaded with “stuff”.

I can’t worry about the little things I forget… I can only try to stay afloat and find small coping methods and tools to trick myself so I appear organized and coherent.

Two small fixes for me? 1.Reading glasses everywhere. I have at least 10 sets of inexpensive reading glasses strategically placed in rooms around the house and in the car. 2.Thank goodness for lists… every day I prepare a list or schedule to keep me focused and on track… I would be dead meat without my index of activities…

Lady Gaga might say of me:

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

Yup, I’m far from the Shallow, but I’m treading water in this memory pool. Grab your water wings and join me?

……………

OK… another small guitar instrumental I put together this week. Welcome to a slightly countrified Silent Night.

Mental Mental, bo-bental… The Mental Game…

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mental stregth upgrade

Can you give me a mental strength upgrade please?

I’m thinking along the lines of one of those computer games where you can earn and accumulate mental strength points.

I used to get up at 5 am (even earlier sometimes) and go for a 15 or 20 k run.

In the dark, in the rain, in the snow… didn’t matter.

Say!
In the dark?
Here in the dark!
Would you, could you, in the dark?
I would not, could not,
In the dark.
Would you, could you,
In the rain?

Dr. Seuss

Turn on the Sony Walkman and just go.

I’d listen to Gretzky’s old girlfriend Vikki Moss singing IF I TURN YOU AWAY (David Foster song) … and I’d fly, especially in the chorus. I could shave a minute off my mile time when Vikki sang. (Talk about the power of song… and big hair)

Along the way, I’d pass the bearded dude on his bike (you could set your clock to his daily ride) who’d sometimes stop and tell me about his porn website business (WTF?)… then I’d come home, shower, eat breakfast, help get the kids out the door to school and then head off to work.

It was challenging and often even painful for sure, but usually I felt pumped to slap my Nikes on the pavement and push to improve my speed. I’d be dripping buckets o’ sweat afterwards but ready to face my Microbiology agar plates in the lab.

Later, at the end of the day, I might go for a 20 k bike ride, or a 1 k swim in the pool or the lake.

Next day was similar. Wash, rinse, repeat.

That was me in the late 1980’s.

I look back now and think to myself… “Who was that friggin’ guy?”

Ironman 1990 Run Larry

Me… Ironman Canada 1990

It couldn’t have been me cuz I don’t have the mental energy to begin to contemplate anything like that.

I did a 12 k run this morning and it was a struggle… not a physical struggle really, my body can handle it… but it’s the mental struggle that exhausts.

I have to play mental games and tricks to keep myself going.

I go to a one-hour yoga class every Monday. I love the yoga stretches, but I don’t go to the later class because they’re longer than an hour, and strangely, even yoga takes mental energy…

Mental energy takes… *surprise*… energy. Energy that, like drilling for oil, sometimes comes up a dry well.

My mental energy rises when I play my guitar. It strikes a “chord” that invigorates, and now I worry a bit about the day that might come when even guitar is a drain. W?W?What if, what then?

Happily, my inner voice whispers insistently… I don’t think it will happen.

The mental energy needed to play guitar, or for you, whatever gives you a unique feeling of pleasure and release (pets, genealogy, sewing, bible-reading, star-gazing) has an amazing additive, restorative effect.

We know from our high school physics classes that energy is neither created nor destroyed… shifted, adjusted, moved… sure… but not destroyed.

I’m learning and adjusting as I age and coming – slowly – to accept that the mental energy I once bottled for use in long runs and triathlons, is now being utilized in other areas of my life.

Today, my mental energy supplies are doled out in small dollops to blog writing and volunteer jobs like soup kitchen, school lunch programs, grandparenting, and tutoring… and yes, I still save a small aliquot (that’s old “lab” speak) for running, swimming, yoga.

And of course… listening, practicing, writing, and performing music.

Most days now I still wake up about 5 am, but the exuberance for throwing on my New Balance running shoes (yes, I’ve changed brands) and knocking off a dozen kilometres first thing, well…

… those days and that form of mental energy have dissolved away like an Alka Seltzer tablet I’m saving for my older days yet-to-come.

IMG_0194

A Night at Medici’s With Paper Rose

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medicis 2.jpg

We climb the eight concrete stairs, exiting the darkness and the cool evening air – a light shhwwwhhsshhh of breezes running through the nearby pines, car tires in the distance.

Then, pushing through the solid wooden door, it’s as if breathing can begin once again, as if the suspended animation of motionlessness has restarted and life resumes its tireless orbital path.

A harmonious mixture of warm light and music and laughter and conversation – glasses on tables, shoes on hardwood floors, scents of coffee and Firehall Backdraft Blonde beer –  cheerfully mingles with the friendly waves of David and Marcel and a few others who show signs of recognition.

The stage is lit and the song unfolds.

medicis night

My first set ever at Medici’s

Welcome to a night at Medici’s.

Open Mic. Every 2nd Friday. Bring a guitar, a ukulele or mandolin, your voice, even a clarinet.

So, who will it be tonight? Billy Joel, Bruce Cockburn, Miranda Lambert, Ed Sheeran, Zac Brown?

Of course not.

Medici’s – a renovated former Catholic church – is a place for small musicians and music aficionados – those who enjoy an evening of homemade entertainment, made by real people, genuine everyday sorts with big smiles and some with big dreams, dreams of their future, and others… like me… with greyish hair, sailing on dreams distilled in days long past.

Like a night out at bingo, you never know which musical ball will rise to the surface with each entertainer. G-54… Folk!  B-19… country!  N-28… rock!  I-47… jazz! BINGO!

Marcel, the jovial young emcee always starts the evening out strumming and singing a song or two mixed with his infectious humour and irreverent teasing of Medici’s owner David. Occasionally he lightheartedly chides one of the regular pre-show nervous musicians sipping her wine innocently at a nearby table.

Marcel then cedes the spotlight to the others. Each musician or group steps up and plays their 3 allotted songs, some original, most covers of recognizable hits by others.

The crowd, generally filled with musicians and their friends, is warmly supportive, knowing the jitters that accompany the amateur performances.

Later, when I walk up the 3 wooden steps to the stage, I don’t see the people in the crowd in their underwear to calm my nerves, but I do envision myself in Nashville’s famed Bluebird Cafe. When I pick out the final few notes of a song on my guitar, I feel the addictive draw of the applause and the eyes of an audience focused on me. Ego.

In my Walter Mitty mind, I’m an up-and-coming ingenue waiting for the record company executive to approach me after my set, and smiling aglow, tell me he’d like to sign me to a contract promising a huge future. It’s a teenage dream… for a guitarist/ singer/ songwriter it approaches a wet-dream in its excitement and unexpected intensity.

From Medici’s to the Bluebird Cafe or the Ryman Auditorium or Grand Ole Opry or Massey Hall, the opium takes hold.

bluebird cafe.jpg……………..

Each time we drive south to the hamlet of Oliver and Medici’s, there are some new faces on stage, young high school kids with tender melodic voices or old cowboy-types with rugged grey stubble and rugged raspy tunes.

When a fresh new Okanagan fruit picking season descends in the heat of late summer and early autumn, songs imported from the far eastern side of Canada waft in with the French-Canadian working kids who come like Woodstock refugees – les Habitants – dreadlocks flowing,  and their incredible musical talents on guitar and banjo and voice.

And always, there are the regulars like Richard and Rolly, Tom, and “Paper Rose”…. ah yes, sweet Paper Rose.

Paper Rose is my favourite.

Rose, whose real name is Evelyn, is a wonderful 80’ish crooner that dresses in Minnie Pearl fashion, flower hat (minus price tag) and all.

Minnie PEarl

Paper Rose stands unpretentiously at the microphone with her guitar and begins with a chatty story, a story about her health, a story about the challenges of living with diabetes, her voice mellow and earnest, her smile bright.

After her lengthy tale, filled with little asides, she launches into her songs, most of them originating from the 1950’s and ’60’s era, usually involving birds or flowers… Yellow Bird, There’s a Bluebird on Your Windowsill… or… Paper Roses. 

Rose definitely isn’t the best guitar player, sometimes she’ll even stop mid-song because she’s forgotten the chords.

But, possessed with a pleasant singing voice, she always sings her songs right on key.

By the time she arrives at the chorus, her guitar gone silent, the whole venue, all the audience, is hooked and singing along. Everyone is rapt, everyone is smiling, and we all sail with her into the chorus hook…

Paper roses, paper roses,
Oh how real those roses seem to me
But they’re only imitation
Like your imitation love for me.

An explosion of raucous, enthusiastic applause erupts.

Rose’s cheeks flush like a spring robin’s breast as she sweetly calls out her thank you’s.

A bit rough around the edges, sure.

If you look hard, you can almost see little girl Rose in the hazy mist – blue ribbons in her hair – gaily skipping rope on the playground, catching her toes often in the fast moving rope, yet not caring a whit.

The joy of the game is all that matters.

Then she begins her next story…