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Ship of (Writer’s) Foolishness

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Show me a man or a woman alone and I’ll show you a saint. Give me two and they’ll fall in love. Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call ‘society’. Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid. Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast. Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice. Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare. Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”

Stephen King – The Stand

Stephen King writing

… a paragraph like the one above, written by a mere mortal, a flesh and blood human like you or me.

A few words pounded out in a starry universe of millions upon millions of words, and yet… the purity and fluidity pours like some rare nectar that you want to sip slowly, langourously roll around your tongue, and savour.

When I’m in a reading cloud, I meander and stumble across a sentence in a book or an article somewhere that pierces me like an unexpected arrow. Some books fill the skies with arrows. And I sense a miracle of humanity.

This month marks 5 years since I began tapping out these weekly missives on a flock/pack/den/murder… of topics and ideas and even silliness.

268 blog posts and counting.

Writing 1,000 word weekly posts to an audience that measures in the low 100’s seems penny-ante paltry in comparison to the Twitter folks, or Stephen King author-types, or the writers of New York Times columns where consumers number easily in the millions… Katy Perry counts 100,000,000 Twitter followers all by herself.

I’m simply a pimple on a speck of dust, a Man on the Fringe. My writings may seem an act of foolishness or stubbornness. Maybe.

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But the hugeness of the audience size isn’t the point, at least in my case.

Size doesn’t always matter. One can swim equally well in this ocean regardless of whether the water depth is 1 metre or 400 metres. Minnow or whale, doesn’t matter.

I can conjure up many reasons for personal expression, whether visual art, music performance or composition, blog writing, foreplay.

Money.

Sure, this could be one because I truly enjoy the benefits of $$. But not in this case. I’m a liberal capitalist at heart but I don’t write for financial gain. I know… stupid, right?

Ego.

Like becoming the Master of my Domain, this could stroke my pleasure seeking id, but after 5 years surely my ego desires would be exhausted by now. Maybe not, perhaps I’ll gaze lovingly at myself in the mirror and think on that one a bit more.

Beauty.

New York Times bestselling author Professor (Sir) Ken Robinson says: “The arts especially address the idea of aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak; when you’re present in the current moment; when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing; when you are fully alive.

Yes. Whether writing or playing music on my guitar, this is the spiritual equivalent of a personal rainbow. A bouquet of deliciously scented flowers blooms when my inner muse lavishes an unexpected burst of transcendental words upon me that I could never have written alone. The arts confer a beauty that makes life’s worries and dangers worthwhile.

Habit.

Yes. Writing each week is a part of my habits and discipline, a train of energy that keeps my wheels on the track. Having you here to check in and occasionally consume my output is the carrot that entices me forward. I feed from your momentum, your expectation to make this happen, to hit PUBLISH every Sunday morning come rain or shine.

Habit matters. It irritates the hell out of me when I train for a running event for many months ahead of time, building my legs to a point where a couple of hours of non-stop use is possible, then discovering after a week of undisciplined, sloven laziness that my muscles have lost their tonal acuity. WTF!

Writing, like going to the gym, is the sweaty exercise of working a muscle consistently to prevent its rapid atrophy with disuse. Habit and discipline keep our muscles toned and healthy.

BONUS: Strong muscles, both physical and mental, are hot and sexy.

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Meaning and Purpose.

Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, said, “the main search of mankind is not happiness or pleasure but meaning. “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose,”

Yes. Purpose. In my previous work-world life in the medical lab I always felt a sense of purpose in helping those dealing with illness or disease.

These days, in my visits to cut and chop onions, carrots, and my fingers at the soup kitchen, I derive a greater inner benefit than those on the other side of the soup counter because of the little comfort I help provide.

Writing gifts me some purpose too… but even more important is the deep dive into meaning.

Writing is the best way I’ve ever discovered to recognize my own thoughts on the world and its meaning to me. My brain isn’t expansive enough to figure it all out. Never will be. But my ability to know myself has increased exponentially through blog writing.

Words and Writing are a miracle of humanity.

Writing is solitary but the sharing of words is universal.

There is a well of sacred knowledge and thought inside each of us, its nose pressed against the screen door, waiting to be released.

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I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.

Stephen King – Shawshank Redemption

Boo… 8 Things That Scare Me…

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Do one thing that scares you every day”

Eleanor Roosevelt

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T Rex fear

I threw up my hotdog one early summer evening in a family restaurant, its walls adorned with Hamilton Tiger Cat football and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey photos… it was mustardy messy and the cloud of smell was … well… you fill in the rest.

The waiter was nice about it, then probably gagged a bit when he went back to the kitchen.

It was a fancy restaurant and I was just a little kid, but the impression it left still lays inside me today, dormant like a herpes virus waiting to rise to the cold-sore surface.

For years, I was nervous that I might throw up in a restaurant again. Fear. Scared. A beautifully coutured phobia in-waiting.

Ultimately silly.

Fear is your friend,” said Tim Ferriss in a TED talk. “Fear is an indicator. Sometimes it shows you what you shouldn’t do. More often than not it shows you exactly what you should do. And the best results that I’ve had in life, the most enjoyable times, have all been from asking a simple question: What’s the worst that can happen?”

We all know that most of our fears are nonsense and should be stuffed in a coffin and buried six feet under, but there are some I hold onto because they make me more human. They are a part of me that makes me ME. (now there’s a sentence that a narcissist could embrace!).

Being a complete person means never having to say you deny your frailties and rough edges.

I’m full of rough edges.

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So, what are some of my biggest “rough-edged” fears now that I’m approaching my 7th decade on this beautiful blue planet?

  1. Driving at night and worrying I might hit and hurt or kill an animal. This is a biggie in my mind and yet it’s one of those fears I embrace and never wish to wash away. Tsunami waves of nausea roll through me when I’ve actually hit, or even think about killing an animal while driving, or for that matter, any other time.

2. A dog jumping out of the ether, barking and snarling at me while I’m running or cycling… my heart rate is already well up there, I don’t need any more stimulation thank you. I hate to see animals in pain or discomfort, and I hate to see me in pain or discomfort because of an animal sneak attack… back off Rover!

3. Walking into a social situation alone… my introversion tendencies rise to the surface. I’m pretty good at projecting a positive public face, but the childlike inner feelings of inadequacy bubble through me as I walk alone through a door to a party or gathering. If I looked in the mirror, I’m sure I’d see I’m wearing little boy shorts and my Parkdale Steelers hockey sweater.

4. Bungee Jumping. I can handle the thought of skydiving (today but not when I was younger). I’ve scuba dived. I’ve explored in narrow, dark underground caves. I’ve slogged my way through a Tough Mudder. But bungee? NO F***ing Way… that’s a stroke waiting to happen and I’m not going there… EVER!!

5. TV or Movie Killings. The realization that watching a TV show or movie of someone being killed – murdered – and knowing it doesn’t bother me (at least not the way I think it should) is bothersome. It makes me fear something within myself that accepts the violence… perversely even enjoys it, and does it over and over again. It also makes me wonder why consensual, loving sex isn’t more accepted on our screens. Which is the more positive choice?

6. One of my kids getting really sick or dying. This one really doesn’t need elaboration. There’s a hardwiring – a Constitutional amendment – in a parent’s head that insists that our issue should never ever pass on before we do. We had a close call once when our son was 9 years old. My heart bleeds for those many who have experienced the death of a child. It’s the devil’s kiss of lightning.

7. Getting near to vomiting or diarrhea on a plane… maybe this goes back to the hot dog incident as a child, beats me. A prison-like situation where you’re incarcerated in a sardine can in the sky? Often no access to a bathroom? … seat belt fastened and nowhere to go? Nowhere to go! UNCOMFORTABLE!

8. Boney M music. Yeah, I fear that electronic disco sound. I feel revulsion and frightening thoughts welling up inside me at the first kitschy Jamaican beats of their music. Why not play Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road and get this melodious mess out of our systems.

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And finally One bonus fear (every good blog list has a bonus!):

Dying suddenly without a chance to say goodbye. I’ve lived and felt the pain of not saying a final goodbye. It lies inside you, gnawing.

I’ve heard those many who say they’d like to be struck dead suddenly with a heart attack or stroke like a runaway truck on a London Bridge, swept away in a second.

Not me.

We can never express with the depth of our inner core, never capture the universe of emotion and love and respect and tenderness, the true multiplicity of feelings for our loved ones… not fully… until we’re in those final immersive moments.

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OK, now some old fears that fell away like my thick head of hair? I’ve had a few.

Here is a sampling of ones I’ve inhaled, held inside, and then eventually exhaled into misty clouds with age and maturity, like:

… getting to the end of my life and realizing that I wasted most of it…

… singing or speaking in public…

… in early blog posts: sharp criticism of my opinions…

… in my young years… premature ejaculation…

… wondering what people thought of me…

… not losing my virginity: ever…

Overcoming rational fear is about being a better person…

Fear doesn’t ever really go away, nor should it. But confronting it is the way to move forward.

Nowadays I try to face fear like a gladiator. Grrr. And usually I’m strong and brave but occasionally… rarely… my inner child arises and I’d like to suck my thumb in the corner – please don’t ever point a gun at my head, OK?

When I see myself overcoming part of a fear each day it lifts me up — I feel the thrive.  

It feeds my endorphin fix needs better than a needle in my arm.

Dealing with fear is always a choice.

One final thought. The Art of Manliness, one of my favorite websites on the Internet declares this “fear” rule:

“Whenever you are presented with a choice, ask yourself which option you would prefer to have taken in ten years.”

yoga 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

 

TRUE GRIT

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boxer-girl

Over and over and over I played the same 4 bars.

No, not my local Peacock’s Perch, Blue Mule, Barking Parrot, or the Copper Mug. I’m talking music and guitar practice.

I’ve been doing this for almost a week now.

da capo: The same 4 bars repeated over and over on the guitar from the beautiful song Angelina by Tommy Emmanuelle. The song’s intricate-contorted-finger movements and timing have pushed me beyond my level of comfort and ability. My bee-sting-callused fingertips keep squawking at me to give up.

This is good. This is great actually.

This is grit.

I’m working on grittiness. Beethoven was gritty. Edison was gritty. Martin Luther King Jr. was gritty. Lives filled with roadblocks and challenges.

With each passing year I admire and respect the grittiest souls amongst us more and more.  If you’re a gritty person (I’ll define you a bit more in a minute if you’re not sure), I am a drooling fan of yours.

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Along this line of thinking, I’m reading a popular book right now entitled, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. My mind likes to have both a non-fiction as well as a fiction book running simultaneously (my current fiction book is titled Shantaram)

Duckworth has climbed over Malcolm Gladwell’s back, building on his theme in Outliers, another favourite book of mine that popularized the 10,000-Hour Rule.

Gladwell recounts how the Beatles performed live in Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964 before attaining huge fame, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time.

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Bill Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it.

I’ve inhabited a relatively lazy life. 10,000 hours was craziness to me. It always seemed like too much work, too much effort. I smugly rationalized my attitude, tricking myself by believing, “Work Smart, not Hard”. 

Slipping into the time travel machine that is my mind, I recall in my early, mainly school-bound years, I was blessed/cursed with a mind that could get by on cruise mode.

One quick review of my Shakespearean Coles Notes and I could score 80% on the English Lit test, so why go bat-crap all-Jeopardy-perfect crazy for 90 or 100%. Hard work was for suckers, right? I felt a sense of righteous superiority.

I was a mini Donald Trump sans comb-over or whatever that thing is that sits on top of his head. Yup, scary.

Hell, even Miss Putns, my Grade 2 teacher at Glen Echo School, commented in my report card that, “Larry needs to work on his superiority attitude.

Grade 2!

Humility didn’t come any easier to me than grittiness.

Wikipedia defines grit as:

“perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Those individuals who are deemed more successful and influential than their contemporary counterparts typically possess traits above and beyond that of normal ability. While ability is still critically important, these individuals also possess “zeal” and “persistence of motive and effort.” Grit is conceptualized as a stable trait that does not require immediate positive feedback. Individuals high in grit are able to maintain their determination and motivation over long periods despite experiences with failure and adversity. Their passion and commitment towards the long-term objective is the overriding factor that provides the stamina required to “stay the course” amid challenges and set-backs.

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance … great alliteration for a book title, and I love the concept, the idea of passion. But the perseverance part has been my Waterloo.

I’ve embraced passion like sweet chocolate candy to my soul.

When I feel enthusiastic about something: music, renovation projects, gardening, exercise, party planning… I dive in with childlike zeal and fervour. I soar through the clouds in a glider on a sunny updraft. The endorphins drive me forward like a Tesla, no driver needed, the energy is organic and unforced.

And if the project or object of my zeal is short-term, well, I know I can pull off amazing stuff (oops, there’s that shitty righteous superiority rising to the surface once more!).

Passion I possess.

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Running Passion…

But if the undertaking grows long-winded or too tough, creeping too far out of my comfort zone, I’ve generally felt an inner weariness that infects my enthusiasm like a nasty virus. I feel my gusto and energy drain away back to the ocean in low ebb.

I’ve eaten all the pizza my appetite can handle, and I leave the less desirable crusts behind for the scavengers to finish up. Another unfinished, another incomplete project.

I’m a big boy now and I wear big boy pants.

I’ve seen enough evidence in my years to know that those who succeed in their worthwhile efforts are often not the smartest, the brightest, the most gifted. It’s more about the determination, the perseverance, the grit.

I know what I have to do. How about you?

Chewing away at my lack of perseverance and growing my grit is a project, a goal. I like goals. Always have.

My new attitude going forward is “Work Smart AND Work Hard”.

Those of you who have grit learned that lesson long before I did. Thank you for your patience waiting for me to catch up.

By the way? Those 4 bars of beautifully harmonic Angelina?

They sound FANTASTIC… now… only 106 more bars to go!

GRIT!

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Passion AND Grit…

 

 

 

 

Oh, What A Lucky Man… He Was…

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moonlight-trees

He rose groggy from his snug bed at 4:09 am, absorbing the chilly touch of the wood floor on his toes and shuffled past the window’s view.

Somewhat startling, it appeared as if fresh snow was a light sugar coating on the shrubs in the front yard, the Kerria, the Boston Ivy climbing up the wooden trellis… the Ponderosa Pines all tip-covered in white frosting. How???

He was taken aback as it didn’t make reasonable sense. When his eyes closed just a few hours earlier it had been 8 degrees celsius outside… had a rogue Arctic front sprinted in from the north like an Olympic athlete in such a short time?

Playing detective and investigating further, he wandered sleepily through the quiet house darkness to the back dining room.

As he grew closer to the large picture window overlooking the yard and chicken coop, bright golden light flooded the floor in front of him.

Now that makes sense, he whispered.

An almost-full moon hanging high in the sky was blanketing the outdoors and pressing through the house windows with a coat of lustrous brightness, much the same as snow on the coldest, darkest nights of winter.

Tiny pinprick stars in the sky surrounded the spotlight-bright moon as if the stars were actually moons circling the true Earth moon.

Despite his early morning wooziness, a recognition grew inside him that not everything greeting us is initially as it seems. There is a subtleness and complexity to life that evades us unless we look more closely or evaluate more fully. And superficial looks lead us to luck.

complexity

It can be easy to simply believe that luck is either happily with us or tragically against us.

Luck that isn’t merely coincidental circumstance… the narrowly missed car/bicycle crash, the bullet or knife that evades an artery by a fraction of an inch, the whispered hot stock tip that actually results in a ten-bagger (10 times the original investment)… is really a horse of a different colour.

I used to say NO a lot…

NO is a very useful word to utter when it’s something you truly don’t want to do. Say NO when you really mean it.

But I used to say NO often because I was fearful, nervous, afraid of not succeeding or making an embarrassing dumb fool of myself. I have an extraordinary capacity to do and say embarrassing stuff. Even still.

I feared raising my hand in Miss Mole’s high school Science or Mr. Warneke’s Math classes even if I felt confident in my answer… the scary WHAT IF‘s ruled the inner hallways of my head. Those kids that did raise their hands didn’t always have the right answers. Are they destitute druggies filling the soup kitchen lines now? Hmmmm…. I hope not.

My WHAT IF has largely been replaced with my WTF now. Who cares if I ask a dumb question or don’t know an answer? So long as I’m not hurting anyone else with my words or questions… who cares?

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I say YES a lot more now than ever.

YES is a very useful thing to say when it’s something that enthuses and excites me and fills me with a heartbeating rush of desire to accomplish or try a new adventure, large or small.

Sure I’m still a bit fearful, nervous, afraid of not succeeding or making an embarrassing dumb fool of myself. Not every YES turns into a pot of gold… not very leprechaun is a magically delicious lucky charm.

Irrational fear (you really should be afraid of loaded guns and mama bears!) … like that fear of rejection when I didn’t ask a girl out on a date in my teens, or the fear of giving a botched presentation… is a barrier that holds us back from truly living, dying long before we take our last breath.

Fear be damned.

I don’t rely on luck…

I rely on chances popping up like Blue Jay batters… regular chances to spot and then walk through an open door and finding the inner strength to say YES when I see the opening.

I rely on the 1,000 hour rule to give me more and more opportunities to find open doors. Skills we hone are the building blocks to more doors.

I rely on Idea Sex… mixing and blending ideas makes my mind sharper, more creative. Sharpness means more chance and opportunity to progress and grow and feel an enthusiastic glow from the new things I try …

Of course, my amalgamated thoughts on luck and opportunity and a life lived more fully could be as untrue and as false as “moon snow” in the middle of the night.

The good thing is I don’t mind looking silly if I’m wrong anymore. Luck is on my side.

amy-poehler-silly

There Is No Try…

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Yoda

Yoda said it… there is no try.

Everybody knows the influence of Yoda in their lives.

Luke Skywalker didn’t believe he could use the force. Yoda told Luke that trying is just a form of doubt.

I’ve teased my kids for years when they say, “OK, I’ll try that!“.

I morph my voice into that fuzzy green Buddha-of-Wisdom Yoda and squeal out a squished and really really atrociously uttered,

There is no try… Do or do not”. 

They just wince, shake their heads, and walk away like they’re dealing with a crazy man.

try to be Yoda. I love it when my kids try anything that they’ve never attempted before. To try is to reject failure as an answer. Trying is a synonym for bravery.

To try is to hope. And what is life without hope?

And so, much like I see 50 shades of grey in just about everything I touch with my eyes and my mind, I understand the black or white value of “Do or do not” power BUT also its limitations.

Yoda said, “There is no try…“, and like an approaching steam train where you’re anxiously holding on by your fingernails waiting for the whistle to blow, he adds…

“… Do or do not.” 

It’s a simple statement about an unfertilized ovum line-dancing its way down a fallopian tube broadly grinning with dreams of promise and potential.

Without the charm of trying in life, we leave that poor wee egg without a sperm donor to kiss Sleeping Beauty to life and fulfill her destiny. Soon to be flushed away in a bloody flood out to the Dead Sea of Tampon.

medicis

I was at an Open Mic night at Medici’s Gelateria – an old restored Catholic church –  a couple of weeks back.

I did my 3 tunes, then after a really nice a cappella song by a pair of teenage girls, an elderly lady climbed the two stairs to the stage with an elderly guitar in her fragile elderly arms.

She shuffled to the microphone, her silver-grey hair poking out in waves beneath a wide-brimmed flowery Minnie Pearl hat, her pale purple cotton dress edged with lace swaying lightly against her thin calves.

Smiling brightly, she introduced herself as Angela, and then launched into an overly lengthy, high-pitched story about her diabetic health issues and the difficulties in eating well while living from a motel room.

There was a sweet sadness in her smile and a blue halo around her as she spoke in a little girl voice, not looking for pity, but wanting to explain and make a case for her musical deficiencies.

After a few minutes she stopped talking. She played and sang.

The song was Paper Roses ( a #1 country music hit for 14 year-old Marie Osmond in 1973). Although she strummed very simple guitar chords, her voice was strong and well-keyed. Her smile and voice resonated through the high-ceilinged former church, now Gelateria cafe.

paper-rose

All was well until partway along she strummed an off-chord… then another and … flustered, she stopped mid-song in embarrassment.

She looked out at the audience and plaintively asked, “is it me or is my guitar the problem?

I only took up playing the guitar 2 years ago and so I don’t always play the right chords…

She was trying her best to perform publicly after trying to learn the guitar in her elder years.

 

Looking down at her old guitar, she started up again and played a couple of lines from the song but it became obvious that her singing melody wasn’t in sync with the chords coming from her guitar.

She broke off strumming her instrument and continued singing in perfect pitch, embarrassed but determined…

…until all of us in the audience smiled back at her bravery and joined in singing along the simple words to her song…

I thought that you would be a perfect lover
You seemed so full of sweetness at the start
But like a big red rose that’s made of paper
There isn’t any sweetness in your heart

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

As Angela and the audience sang the last few words of the song, a cloudburst of joyful, enthusiastic applause rang loudly through the room.

I don’t think that most of us would have ever walked up those stage stairs the way Angela did that evening. It was embarrassing, right?

Her musical skill and ability was mediocre at best.

But it was her strength of positive spirit and character that endeared and entertained us despite her lack of high-level talent.

Angela had tried so hard, and if you were Yoda, I think you would have said, “she not only tried, but she did”. 

You know by now that I’m always looking for mentors and inspiration in the words and deeds of those around me and afar.

Sometimes I actively search for a bright beam of light in the night sky, a beam filled with ideas and strength and passion where I can catch a ride to a new destination.

More often than not, that beam of inspiration emanates from a bright star, a guitar playing mentor/hero like James Taylor, Eric Clapton or Keith Urban, a writer like Stephen King or Rachel Joyce, a chef like Jamie Oliver.

But I love those unintended surprises of encouragement and motivation that radiate from a back eddy, an unknown tributary of innocence and secrecy that flow in like a gentle old lady with a voice and a guitar.

She tried. We should all try.

I don’t think trying is doubt. I think trying is hope.

I’m not sure we should be relying on little green creatures to be our life consultants (and definitely not large Larry GREEN creatures either!).

I’ve told you this secret before but I’ll repeat it again.

I use you. I use you so I can try…

I use you to motivate me to write and to explore the minutiae of life, the little things that may seem meaningless… yet still, in their simplicity, like a statement from Yoda, contain BIG messages and stories.

When you converse with a good friend, you realize that life is a series of stories on a tender scented breeze, that slowly turns the pages… pages occupied with the boredom and exhilaration… the smiles and tears… of our book… one-by-one-by-one…

Book of life.jpg

 

 

 

Looking for Mr. Goodbar-“tender”…

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bloodhound.jpg

Set loose the bloodhounds and investigative detectives… WOOF WOOF… ah-oooooOOO!

The search is on.

I “retired” two years ago this week from a job… a medical laboratory career that I lived for 37 years. That’s a bunch of 18-wheelers full of pus and poop and piss I tested folks.

I didn’t hate the job, nope. It was a good profession where I worked with people I liked a lot, but… I needed a new life vista in my front window, so…

I munched my way through a sweetly delicious “Bye Bye Pie Party” with my lab friends on my 57th birthday and walked out the door. Larry has left the building…

When I began in the lab in the 1970’s it was ridiculously considered a sort of girly job, a fairly low paying position that few men entered because they couldn’t meet those societal assumptions about supporting a wife and family on such low wages… kind of a “McJob”.

Of course I’d lived a real McJob life already.

For 4 and half years through high school and then college, I flipped burgers like a McDonalds All-Star… in fact, I did win pins and trophies as a McDonalds All-Star. I was a Big Mac-makin’ Bobby Orr… a Cheeseburger-slingin’ Usain Bolt!

I knew what a McJob looked and felt like. There is nothing wrong (other than bargain basement pay levels) with McJobs if you have the right attitude.

Lab technology didn’t feel like a McJob. It felt important and necessary and when I wasn’t accidentally trying to… OMG… kill unborn babies, it provided a decent but not extravagant livelihood thanks to progress made through numbers’ negotiation, both union-based and my own.

Proctologist

Where was I? Oh yeah… Retirement.

Did I say I recoil from the word retirement? I do.

It lost its meaning, its life, way back in the day my Dad retired as an oil company accountant in 1972.

He had been holding on by his fingernails for the day… the year when he finally turned 65 and walked out his office door so that he could live the “good life”.

He hated going to work each morning. It was like a daily stab in the heart when he walked out the door of our house on Rainbow Drive.

I never saw him smile more than that day he woke up for his morning cup of percolated Chock-Full-O’Nuts coffee and didn’t have to strap on his suit and tie costume and drive away in our pale green 1970 Ford Galaxie.

Retirement used to be the glorious, long-awaited, anxiously-anticipated end of a lifetime of striving and hard work and sacrifice. Enjoyment of the job wasn’t a particular requirement.

All the Don Drapers out there put in their 40 hours weekly for 45 years (minus the relaxed 2 week summer camping trip with screaming, whining kids).

Then magically one day they stopped cold turkey like a lifelong chain smoker who finds salvation and brushes away the smelly ashtray that was their mouth for decades.

Freedom 65.

Rocking chairs on front porches.

Beach sunsets and gluttonous Seniors’ buffets in Florida.

senior buffet.jpg

Work was a nasty word they horked up and spit on the sidewalk like coughed-up phlegm. Yuck!

A month, a year, a couple of years later they silently inhaled one final breath and expired in their La-Z-Boys while watching the late news on TV. The good life.

The Story of a Life. The End.

Today, there are no doubt a scant few who still aspire to this retirement scenario of unrestricted leisure and endless sloth. Maybe you can tell me where to find them.

The retirees I’m seeing, the retirees I’m encountering on the streets and in restaurants and in running races I participate in… the retiree I’m becoming… are more like excited born-again Christians with new purpose and direction.

Sure, some find new part time jobs out of financial necessity, that bill-paying evil.

But so many of these boomers are leaving their careers, wandering out of the dark forest and exposing themselves to the wide open plains where sunshine and positive choices abound like jackrabbits emerging from their underground dens after the storm ends.

Most of the retired folks I come across are seeking out new vistas like me, new jobs and hobbies and interests that bring a profound sense of joy and verve to our lives… new sources of stimulation that set off little fireworks explosions in our heads (hopefully those aren’t strokes!)

I just want to get more competent at something. Almost anything.

I love the feeling of accomplishment. It’s another kind of orgasm. Much much tidier.

When I took a one week bartending course a year ago, I was searching a new side street, an alley that hopefully held some wonder and something unexpected. The occasional evening I spend pouring drinks for pay (and Male Prostitute tips!) now has expanded my life story.

It’s not a vocation. It’s a personal life expander.

In the past few weeks, I’ve begun spending one afternoon each week working on English language and coping skills with a small group of young Syrian refugees, helping them adapt to a dramatically new world order for them and their children.

From the outside, it looks like I’m doing them an altruistic favour.

I hope they benefit. I think they benefit.

I know I benefit. I know 2 or 3 words in Arabic. I share small jokes and smiles that cross a cultural divide in a world that doesn’t need more walls erected.

My world is expanding and improving little-by-little.

And that’s why I’m searching today.

I’m actively searching for new life expanders, new ideas, new directions.

Ideas that will transport me into new areas, dark caves I’ve not explored but where a tiny flashlight will illuminate a new creative direction in my world.

What my ‘purpose’ will be a month from now, a year from now, whenever, is a total mystery that I’m painting one brushed pixel at a time.

There is no real purpose.

It’s about making choices that invigorate and enthuse me.

And – aside from that other kind (nudge nudge wink wink) – what’s more fun than a “head” orgasm?

head orgasm

PS. One final but important point I want to impart? These new choices, ideas and caves where we invest our “retirement” energy should fall neatly into the realm of the notions described in Sarah Knight’s book: The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don’t Have with People You Don’t Like Doing Things You Don’t Want to Do

 

Live Time or Dead Time?

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Press your fingers to your wrist and check your pulse for me. I know it’s crazy but just do it.

You felt a steady bump thump bump, right?

OK, good. You’re alive.

Now prove it.

art making

I luxuriate in reading books, listening to recorded music, watching TV and movies, visiting art galleries, feasting in exotic restaurants… these are all sweet desserts and wonderful preoccupations.

The richness of our lives is a temple built upon the passive enjoyments and imaginative passions we digest and are captivated by.

To a point.

A heart-swelling, well-lived life needs balance, a balance of Absorbing and Creating.

Mental vs. Physical, Sweet vs. Sour, Questions vs. Answers, Minor Key vs. Major Key. You get my point, right?

A life spent absorbing the output of others is either:

  • Entertainment
  • Learning or…
  • Dead time.

I love entertainment: movies, theatre, dance, television, concerts, cooking demonstrations, football games. I confess I may not eat all the vegetables I should, but I can sure play a vegetative couch potato with the very best.

I love learning: Learning is leaning into the sunshine like a spellbound sunflower growing wings to the sky, expanding our abilities and knowledge.

Preparation and study, learning to play a tough new guitar lick gives me a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Grasping, digesting, mastering skills and knowledge from others is inspiring and… well… killer awesome.

But like the second, third and fourth pieces of banana cream pie, too many absorbing muches makes us flabby of body and mind.

banana_cream_pie_shirts-

Dead time. It’s like living with a corpse in your head.

Walking through a graveyard under the dappled shade of a Honey Locust tree – looking, absorbing, breathing, contemplating –  is calming and peaceful, but ultimately, “life” six feet under really sucks.

Surely living should be more than passing through the graveyard, absorbing others’ products. Reading Shakespeare or JK Rowling is shadow boxing… enjoyable preparation for the real match.

Eventually, consuming what others create is… Dead Time.

When you personally write like Shakespeare or Rowling or even the worst pulp fiction writer, THAT is truly punching the bag. Live Time.

Creating vs. absorbing.

Like saving and investing $$, the best of intentions mean nothing if you don’t actually make yourself put 10% of your paycheque into the investment i.e. the bank or bond or stock or real estate or…

Live time is creating your own output, being active versus passive.

Writing a story, designing a sweater, inventing a new golf swing, writing a song, building a bookshelf, learning the piano, putting a fusion twist on pizza, singing in a choir, planting a guerrilla garden, designing a website. LIVE TIME.

My backyard chickens like to think they are prime examples of active creativity… one of the girls actually told me this the other day. After all, she clucked from behind the wire coop gate, we absorb the chickie chow you give us and create a brand new egg… every day!

I thought about what she said, but I had to remind her that creating the same thing over and over and over is kind of lazy creativity.

We then had a long discussion over the multiple definitions of creativity, the grammatical distinctions between creative and creativity, and whether it was just semantics at the root of our difference of opinion.

Fortunately, she and her feathery sisters didn’t take my criticism to heart, and so I still get to enjoy their boring creative output in a yummy green onion and mushroom omelette as often as I wish.

……………..

Because it’s something I like to do, I’ll use writing as an example of LIVE TIME. You can substitute anything that stirs your creative juices in its place.

Everybody has a story within. The seeds are lying quietly dormant like bacterial spores waiting to be watered and exploding to life.

story to tell

No life is too small to find some meaning in words. Why? Because your own interpretation of the beauty or horror of the world will be unique. Own it proudly.

Writing can be personal (diaries, journaling) or shared (books, letters, blogs).

Writing, like reading, is a powerful force that can develop and take us in surprising and unpredicted directions.

When you work on your creativity, you develop a great inner force and become competent.

Each day try to do one creative thing that makes you feel good. This is one way to make yourself your priority.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE and a recent book titled BIG MAGIC- Creative Living Beyond Fear believes there is a creative force that surrounds us.

The creative force is there but it requires an awareness and a desire to allow it to materialize from ethereal nothingness like a fluffy marshmallow cloud in the sky.

Vincent van Gogh, speaking of art and poetry said,

Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum… Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream. 

Great ideas need to be nurtured and expressed, and they need work, lots of work. Thomas Edison said “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Hell, you can probably live a great life without ever dreaming a creative or original thought or idea, bobbing merrily atop the ocean surface.

But I think most of us know that slipping on a mask and snorkel and diving under the waves is where the greater riches lie, the rainbow colours are brighter, the water is immersively warm and that is where you’ll truly Find Dory (sorry, that metaphor just might be the worst I’ve ever floated!)

At some time, think about crossing the bridge from reader to writer (or… HGTV-watching DIY fanatic to project builder) and be patient enough to express your own creativity and emotion.

Creativity and personal expression run through each of us like the tempestuous blood pulsing through the radial artery at the base of our wrist.

Measuring that pulse, appreciating its warmth and cultivating the life force it contains is a heavenly approach to dividing our moments between Dead Time and Live Time.

Omelette anyone?

you and everyone else.jpg

 

 

 

Variety: Building Your Courage to say YES

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destiny-courage

Here’s a joke: I should be a very fit guitar-strumming homeless meth addict with an alcohol dependency and a huge bank account. (It’s alright, I don’t get it either…)

But you know, there is a saying, “you’re the average of the five people you surround yourself with.” 

I’d like to add an addendum… ” and… you’re the average of your five favourite activities/interests.”

My five?

Well… I live in a mixed salad bowl with a rainbow assortment of tasty characters; a potpourri of positive people jumbled together with a hodgepodge of projects and pursuits.

It’s a part of my ADHD approach to life, doing something different each hour of the day so that I don’t feel tediumized.

  • I write blogs
  • I run and swim and go to boot and spin classes, I go yoga stretching.
  • I chop vegetables at the soup kitchen
  • I read books
  • I mix and pour drinks at a Greek Restaurant
  • I play my guitar and sing my songs at Open Mic night
  • I research and buy and sell stocks online
  • I cook ethnic foods
  • I watch movies and eat too much popcorn
  • I tend chickens and gather eggs
  • I smoke cigars.

Variety.

variety

I thrive on variety.

Variety in the things I do and the people I hang around with.

I’m like my backyard chickens. Cluck cluck.

The girls are a worry right now because I see some unfriendly pecking going on in the hen’s yard.

Chickens are cannibals by nature.

They like to eat their own eggs. They like to eat their friends. A bored hen gets her jollies by picking and pecking on her friends and relatives.

Chickens need stimulation. VARIETY.

I’ve thrown some jingly cat toys in the yard to distract them from playing KFC on each other.

I need jingly things too. VARIETY.

I glaze over easily when I’m lacking stimulation and start to peck at the other birds of my tribe just because they’re there.

Not on you. Other people.

I don’t want to be a cannibal so I desperately seek variety. Variety in life means saying YES.

I spent most of my life saying NO… NO was the easy way to live. I became an expert at saying NO… I lived in fear of the YES word.

I grew up and became a (semi-)functioning adult when I finished Mohawk College in Hamilton at the age of 19.

I was offered 2 lab jobs on the same day.

One was in the Blood Bank of the hospital where I had just interned for a year; the other was a general lab position in pocket-sized Stanton Yellowknife Hospital in chilly northern Yellowknife, NWT.

Male and Female Logic

My scientific logical NO head said, “Larry, be realistic, take the safe and easy job here at home”.

My firework-laden, emotional YES heart said, “Larry, this is your chance, choose the unknown and go dance beneath the Northern Lights.”

I held my breath and hesitantly mumbled YES.

I think the fear we feel when we say NO is different from the fear we experience when we say YES.

The fear that holds the hand of NO is a running away fear.

The fear that makes love to YES is the fear of running towards something.

YES fear is better than NO fear, isn’t it?

freedom-of-fear

More and more I find I’m trying to grasp ahold of the YES fear…

I’m not the guy I was 10, 20, 30 years ago.

I want to experience the amazingly diverse world around me, sample the flavours of life, roll them sensuously over and around my tongue to feel and touch and taste those things foreign and different.

I want my heart to race with restorative enthusiasm and excitement and a beguiling anticipation of the unknown.

YES to Volcano surfing, YES to Snake Wine, YES to becoming a Bartender. YES. YES. YES.

Now I see you nodding your head, tsk-tsk’ing, and thinking I’ve gone all looney-tunes… well, you’re right, but let’s step back a second.

I am saying YES more… yup… but not an indiscriminate YES. I won’t say YES to everything.

Here’s a tiny example: When I write this weekly blog, it usually takes a bit of time and thought before I settle on a topic I want to pin to the wrestling canvas and put my eye to the telescope and zoom in more closely.

I don’t jump out of my chair and yell an orgasmic YES – like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally – to the first seed that feels its heart beat, then germinates and pops its head above the soil.

I know I’ll say YES eventually… eventually… once I’ve marched each potential idea up and down the echoing halls inside my head, turning them over and over before I finally begin to sense a stiffening VIAGRA-like boost of enthusiasm for the one.

YES!

Those “ADHD” things I do that I mentioned at the beginning of this post? They all began in the sparkling infinite stars-in-the-universe of ideas and possibilities. There is no counting the beautiful stars in an inky sky just as there is no counting the galaxy of ideas and pursuits. It only takes one YES to find and develop momentum.

Go ahead, choose another venture… another ADventure.

One by one the whirling, expanding universe hurls the losers out of the murky cloud of the Milky Way. A shortlist survives the onslaught and the strong gravitational force draws me into its orbit of excitement.

I’m just an average guy who dreams and schemes of finding extraordinary moments that lie hidden within an ordinary life waiting to be discovered, like a ravenous tiger concealed in the underbrush, patiently aware and ready for a tasty morsel to pass his way.

The best way I’ve found to unearth the extraordinary in a day is in seeking variety and being open to the unmapped journey, willing to travel down unknown side streets and paths that aren’t part of life’s standard itinerary.

Courage begins as a little thing that helps small people cast large shadows.

That’s why I’m reminding myself that YES fear is better than NO fear.

child shadow

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