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A Square Peg… Or How I Started As A Wine Virgin

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funny wine

Mmmmmm… nice overtones of peach and grapefruity citrus with a strong acidic finish and a light touch of oakiness.

Yes… a pretentious yet sensitive wine with a sunny hint of snot, clown tears, and liquid viagra. Great with roadkill or Cap’n Crunch.

The wine world is viewed by a lot of people as a mixed word salad of pompous ostentation.

Pinot Meunier, Reisling, Cabernet Merlot, Chardonnay. Still or frizzante. White, red or rose.

For someone who doesn’t drink much booze, the demon drink has been a prominent part of my life for the past 5 years since I hung up my laboratory petri dishes… a new set of chemicals (ethyl alcohol) and microorganisms (yeasts) has displaced the E. coli’s and Salmonellas that I sniffed and puzzled over for more than 3 decades.

Each of the past 4 summers I’ve mixed and poured my heart out, bartending a couple of nights a week at a local Greek restaurant. Martinis, Margaritas and Sangrias were my stock in trade.

I thrived on the enthusiasm and fast pace – the steady flow of staff and patrons that cascaded life right back at me. Bartending has a certain scent of glamour and mystery I love.

However, for a guy who routinely wakes up each morning ready to fly (or spin or HIIT) at 4:30 or 5:00 am, concocting colourful umbrella-festooned drinks at 9:00 or 10:00 PM, well… it’s not the very best collaboration conceived.

Be Best.

Thanks Melania… my best is early in the day which makes my new summer job a “best” fit.

Living in Canada’s Okanagan Valley today means an exposure to grapes on just about every hillside… we’ve become a pint-sized version of Napa or Sonoma,  Mosel or Reine, Loire or Bordeaux, Tuscany or Collabria, Coonawarra or Kangaroo Island.

So this summer, I’ve decided to hang up my evening bartender’s apron and try on a daytime sommelier’s cape.

Signing on for a couple of mornings each week at a winery 5 minutes walk down my road is just the fresh breath I need.

8th Gen wines 2

My morning role is minimal – I set up and send boxes of wine to restaurants and wine club members who receive regular shipments of the fermented juice.

And when (if) my time allows I’ll set up shop at the counter of the tasting room and pour out mini-sips of liquid and words of wine wisdom to the visitors passing through.

But back to the jargon of wine country.

The other night, for a few hours, I and the entire crew of wine hosts (perhaps 12 of us) sat and quaffed our friendly owner/vintner’s full line of libations. Being paid to drink and eat is hard work!

Like car salespeople, we were test-driving the vinos on offer to the local and tourist throngs that flock to this region in the summertime.

Of course I’m new to this world. A square peg in a round hole. A virgin in disguise as a well-oiled call boy.

The other hosts/sippers have mostly completed college and university courses that detail the importance of terroir (terror?), the crush (schoolyard romance?), the malolactic fermentation (marshmallow what?).

The table was covered tip to tail with long-stemmed and tumbler-style glassware of different sizes and conformations. In front of me I counted 5 unique sipping vessels.

I immediately displayed my impeccable knowledge-base of the fermented grape by sloshing a generous spurt of water into the Cabernet Merlot tumbler. Oops! Nothing to see over here folks…

The wine was skilfully poured by our smiling hosts (the wife and husband owners) and with each sip we were served an encyclopedic description of where it was grown in the valley, the soil type, the micro-climate, the time of picking, crush method, fermentation approach …. and on and on … did I mention… on?

Yes, it was overwhelming for this neophyte. Fascinating, but overwhelming.

8th gen vineyard.jpg

The descriptor word salads were sashayed forth in great abundance and splendour… yada yada yada

I smiled, and in contrast to my younger years when I would have blushed and tried desperately to fit in, I didn’t make any attempt at looking remotely intelligent (like the others).

I didn’t even verbalize any (not one) erudite comments that displayed my astounding breadth of knowledge as a oenologist. This is good and oh, this one’s yummy maybe wouldn’t have added to the mastery and understanding of the gathering.

I came, I sipped, I listened. And I enjoyed. You translate that into Latin!

I fit in like the paparazzi observing a special event, recording and enjoying but also realizing that I’m not (yet anyway) a true part of the world of this vintage group.

The good news is that no one made me feel lesser for my “virginity”. The warmth of the evening and the people I shared it with was a tasty introduction to my new “chemical” society.

Afterwards I shuffled (straight, mostly) home and whispered quietly into the cool night air and stars above … Cheers… Salud… Prost… Gun Bae… Santé…

cheers

 

Don’t Do This …

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hummingbird and lilac

Can you smell the delicious sugary-sweet scent of roses and lilacs in the light spring breeze? Stop … slowly … breathe in deeply …

The hummingbirds and bees turn the dial in their noses up to high before diving in to get their mind-blowing fix of nectar. It’s their cocaine snort. Maybe that’s why they buzz …

Speaking of buzz …

Hey Larry, how was your weekend?”, someone probed me on Tuesday this week.

Well… sniff… er… umm… oh yeah, I ran a half marathon with 18,000 others in Vancouver on Sunday … but I can barely bring it to the surface.

I hate it when someone asks me what I did last weekend. Or what I’m doing next weekend. Shit … I don’t know.

It’s not because I hated what I did … it’s because …

… I can’t remember what I did yesterday, or the day before yesterday, or the past weekend. What I’m doing tomorrow is pretty foggy.

What did I have for breakfast? Who did I help out? To be or not to be…

Days, weeks, months and years flash by… it was 2010 yesterday.

Give me my calendar and my notes so I can re-live the past and remember the future.

forget me not.jpg

No, I don’t have Alzheimer’s or dementia (yet, I hope)… it’s just that my process is do … done … move forward to the next do and the last do that’s done is filed at the back of my internal hard drive. Got it?

How many weekends do I have remaining to forget? chggg cgghhh rumbl grggl (internal calculator adding up)… let’s say I live to 75 … I have about 700 weekends to enjoy and remember before last call.

……………..

In many of my posts over the years, I’ve listed a few things we can do that I believe work well for the construction of a life well-lived.

Today I’m taking the reverse course and telling you NOT to do what I typically do. Yes, I’m embracing negativity as a life lesson to you.

RUSH RUSH RUSH… This is not a process I recommend to you.

These days we hear a whole lot about meditation and mindfulness… I have friends out there like Jimmy and David and Denise and Marsha who take the time and patience to focus intensely on the moment at hand. Smart folks.

I admire those who stop and smell the roses and lilacs. And remember.

Alabama had a great pulsating song:

Can’t be late
I leave plenty of time
Shaking hands with the clock
I can’t stop
I’m on a roll and I’m ready to rock

Oh I’m in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life’s no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I’m in a hurry and don’t know why

I’m in a hurry, yes, and I do know why.

I was at an Open Mic a couple of nights back. It’s an experience. It’s a memory. I wanna drink in as much as possible and the friggin’ clock never stops tick-tick-ticking.

Each experience we inhale – we participate – slows it all down. Injects a moment with life.

Treadmill existence is both good and bad. I know this. I know I rush too much.

I’m gonna try (yes Yoda… try!) slowing down a tiny bit.

But at this point I also know that when I slowwwwww down too much (for me)… I feel the urge, the burn, the ache.

So perhaps do as I say and not as I do …

I want to live forever and continue to – in my own hapless way – forget, yes, forget… all the great things, the activities, the people, the conversations, the corny puns and silly innuendo, the luscious foods, the harmonies, the books, the Cuban cigars and Gewurztraminer sips, the blog posts…

… and especially, the sweet flowery perfumes and birdlovesongs that sail gently through my window on brilliant spring mornings.

rose at window.jpg

 
 

The Internationally Unintentional Era (Errors) of this Unwoke Man

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International Women's Day 2019

International Women’s Day?

Is it weird that we devote/commemorate a single day to fully half of the population of this planet?

Or is it weird that we feel we need to do this for some good reasons?

How could half the people alive today be in need of special recognition?

When will the day arrive that we nod our heads and reminisce nostalgically about the past need to strive for female/male equality in the same way we (should) reminisce about the early scourges of Smallpox or Scurvy?

Shhhhh…. this is not for sharing (good thing there isn’t such a thing as the internet where everyone can see!)… I have to admit that my job as a man in this world is more difficult as each day passes.

Hang on … I’ll wait a moment here for you to say … “awwwww“.

*Silence*

Yeah, I didn’t think I’d hear too much there. Could be my failing ears but I really don’t think that’s it.

silence.jpeg

Frankly, the difficulties I have to face as an older white dude are infinitesimally minimal to the struggles that so many others – in this case, women – face from the moment of their first cry until their final breath.

What I want to explain to you in today’s post is that I know from time-to-time I’m gonna step in the deepest, darkest gender shit, despite all my best efforts at being “woke”.

I’m kinda half-woke!

I’ve spent a good deal of my life’s days transitioning to a world where everyone should be truly valued at the same level of distinction…

… no matter their skin colour, their gender, their religious belief, their mental capacity and so on and so on (I have to add that etcetera part because I know I’m unintentionally excluding groups that should be delineated here, see?, the shit plops are EVERYWHERE).

I’ve learned … I’m learning … I’ve discontinued my childhood jokes about non-straight sexualities (how many young boys did I coarsely demean in high school?), I’ve hopefully stopped using derogatory words I once used to describe other ethnic groups, I try to use the most non-confrontational descriptors for every person and every group.

And still I stumble…

stumble2

I stumble … and yet I know there’s far worse than myself.

I gape and gasp in dismay; so much of what I see in the world still confirms the suppression of women.

If I were a praying kind of guy, I’d spend hours each day on my knees begging for God to give something even close to equality for women in dark oppressive countries and regions of repression, torture, abuse.

On a wholly personal level, it’s impossible for me as a Baby Boomer to be sufficiently aware of every possible transgression regarding – for today’s discussion – gender politics, to never say or make a judgment error.

I’m an OK guy but let me leave it like this…

I celebrate all women and the determination, intelligence, strength and yes, beauty, that they bring to the world.

Each of us, man, woman and any other, is transitioning daily to a world that changes in ways, minor and major, with each sunrise and each sunset.

So please, when I falter in my own personal transition and step in the stinky doo-doo I’ve dropped, it’s not for lack of trying.

Not everyone is magically accorded the advantages that I’ve largely taken for granted. My responsibility is to keep learning and learning, trying and trying … trying to find the words and means to build others up.

The last thing I want to do to any person is unknowingly, accidentally, ignorantly, lessen their esteem or feeling of individual power.

But sometimes I know I will, cuz I’m a part of this Unintentional Era of the Unwoke Man.

unwoke men.jpg

Yeah, still unwoke

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

Skate skiing.jpg

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!’’

Scrooge.jpg

8 Things I’ve Learned At Age 60+

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Lincoln with man bun.jpg

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

Or…. can it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

voting ballot

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

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

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

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

google is my brain

The Only Way To Get Smart Is To Look Stupid

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lookng stupid

I never asked a girl out on a first date and had the response of “NO“.

100% success … (just don’t ask about my success rate on 2nd and subsequent attempts!)

Aren’t I wonderful? On the surface this appears to be a good thing, yes?

After all, NO means rejection.

NO means hurt.

NO means I’m worthless.

NO means being thought less of.

NO means I look stupid.

YES is success…

But it wasn’t about success… it was about fear. Fear of being judged, fear of looking stupid.

A NO doesn’t make us worthless.

NO is an opportunity.

NO is a learning chance.

NO is a driving force.

Of course we MEN should know that some NO‘s mean NOOOOOOO! Interpreting THAT NO as a MAYBE is stupid.

But for a lot of us, NO brings out the fear of looking stupid.

In my younger years I was terrified of looking stupid. I look stupid all the time now.

ask on a date

The reason I never heard a NO when putting my fragile ego on the line and asking a girl out is that I waited, then waited more.

I probed and deliberated and spent whole nights awake… wondering, weighing, wishing… doing my “mental homework”.

I would flirt some. If she wasn’t flirting back like crazy, I knew the time wasn’t right.

I would wait and wait until the edge of the cliff was so enticingly close that the sweet young lady was almost set to ask me out in restless frustration. There were actually a couple of occasions when the gender-norm-of-the-time was flipped and she did ask me out.

But I also knew that if I waited too long, she might walk away in irritated exasperation… “… he’s cute, but he’s gutless. Time to move on …” 

Once my level of certainty was 99.8% of a positive response, I would finally make the societally expected masculine approach.

“I see that the new Star Wars movie is at the theatre this week…. would you like to come with me?

Of course that latter half of the statement was an added flirt… a double entendre to see if I could make her blush. Being nervous and provocative simultaneously aren’t mutually exclusive. A boy’s gotta have fun sometimes. BAD!

movie date

I wasted a lot of time – my own and young ladies’ –  too afraid to make a polite gesture and ask for a date even if I was only maybe 50% certain of the outcome (who can tell I’m a statistics’ and numbers’ nerd?).

I was afraid to look stupid.

If I was smart I would have realized much earlier that taking some measured risks not just in romance, but also in education or business or anything else I could think of, and taking the chance to appear stupid is OK. Really OK.

After looking stupid I can come up with 8 more plans of ideas I want to work on. I can use the experiences of failure to become a better person, to have a better chance at success, to maybe work with other people who will contribute to my success (and I to theirs) and to increase my odds of doing what I love.

Good people accept honest stupidity in others when they can see that they’re trying to better themselves. The not-so-good people should be happily ignored… they’re the arrogant stupid.

Smart people are lucky. Smart people are curious. Smart people are humble. Smart people ask “What if…?” Smart people learn from their mistakes and don’t blame others. Smart people learn new skills to enhance their old skills. Smart people don’t listen to what society tells them they should do. Smart people work the 10,000 hours and over-prepare.

Smart people aren’t afraid to look stupid.

I look stupid regularly now. I ask stupid questions. Unfortunately I too often say stupid things (but that’s another blog post!)

Stupid is good when it leads to better.

I don’t mind trying things where I’m likely to fail until I’ve practiced them over and over. I studied violin for 4 years as an adult.

I sounded stupid. My bowing technique was terrible.

I sounded and looked stupid but I carried on. After 4 years I still looked and sounded stupid. Stupid but sadly, not better. The stupid I could manage, the screechy sound and lack of “better” finally wore me down and I turned in my bow.

Yes YODA… I tried…

Psycho violin

Maybe stuck-stupid is still banging your head on a wall after wearing out the padding. Smart can be knowing when to move on.

Fear of looking stupid is a prison cell we lock ourselves inside. Those bars that imprison us sometimes are really just an illusion, a mirage.

Allowing ourselves to appear stupid is a measure of courage and confidence, maturity, self-acceptance, and finally, success.

Ultimately, looking stupid is a stage we pass through on the way to becoming better – a better date, a better guitarist, a better curler, a better therapist or surgeon or linguist or burger flipper.

Forrest Gump knew that…

stupid-is-as-stupid-does.jpg

 

 

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.

Baby-With-Funny-Glasses

Divine Guidance or… Where The Muse Really Resides

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gods creativity

I heard a guy interviewed on the radio yesterday.

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

I say… BULLSHIT!

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

I don’t know if humans are creative sometimes.

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

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

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

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

I get where he’s coming from.

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

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

This is my take.

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

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

Sara Blakely did that.

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

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

That’s creative, isn’t it?

Spanx men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In turn they inspired dozens of generations afterwards.

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

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

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

Funny-Iphone-02

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

Creativity is hard work. Exhaustingly hard.

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

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

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

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

It’s inside of us.

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

Julie Moss Ironman

Julie Moss crawls across Ironman finish line in 1982…

 

 

BIG or SMALL, Some Have It All…

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Johnny CAsh

Dammit… Where are my pants?… no, not the beat-up, torn garden jeans. Although the rips would make me look like a fashion icon in today’s style.

I want the black ones that I wear with my black button-up shirt that make me feel like Johnny Cash… real bad ass… I Walk The Line…

Depending on the time of year, the pants will fit me either too big or too small. Winter small, summer big… spring and fall are the goldilocks just-right periods.

I know it’s all relative but I’m feeling BIG and small simultaneously.

I feel BIG because my world can be anything.

I can pretend I’m Tom Hanks in the movie BIG and do all sorts of adult stuff that makes me look grown up.

BIG.jpg

I can write a blog post each week that any person on earth with a modicum of technology can access and read. I’ve been to remote villages in godawful poor countries where there’s no safe water supply but they have cellphones and internet. BIG.

I can write songs, play guitar and sing on different stages all around my region. It’s like being a rock star on a tiny stage. BIG.

I can buy and sell stocks on any North American stock market just like a big shot Wall Street trader or even the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett. BIG.

I sometimes help others who, by no choice, were given a lower placing on the lottery list of life. I was, again by no choice, put pretty darn close to the top of the humanity heap for access to education and financial wealth. BIG.

BIG is good.

BIG is good

Is SMALL good too?

I feel small.

My impatience and my “seed growth are incompatible forces that thwart my dreams and goals.

My seeds grow way too slow for my taste. There are parts of ourselves – dreams, hopes, beliefs – that are the seeds waiting to germinate.

There are stories galore of small peeps like me who made a huge splash with their creativity and energy.

J.K. Rowling was small once. So was E.L. James. KD Lang. Samuel L. Jackson. So was Louis CK (maybe not such a great example)… hmmm… maybe if I go by my initials? LW Green? Nope, don’t feel the creative energy swelling…

Those folks have seeds that keep sprouting and growing in a seemingly endless flow.

Fortunately, I learned in my previous Microbiology lab-life that seeds (spores) can lie dormant for months, years, centuries.

They’re not dead.

But…

They’ll only spring to life if one day they perceive the conditions are right for them to survive. Then they split themselves open and take a make-it-or-break-it-risk.

It’s more than a sprint to be the winner of the Kentucky Derby… the risk is either success (LIFE) or failure (DEATH).

I think we all have seeds inside ourselves that can be germinated and grown.

seed germination

 

A whole lot of writers and musicians have had moderate popular success with appreciative audiences that adore their work and output.

Not every song needs to be played for 25,000 people in an arena to make it worthwhile and special. A hall of 200 admirers can be a lifetime achievement.

Not every book written need sell a million copies to make a complex, wonderful story.

Small movie? We sat through the quiet flick Maudie last year. Oscar-worthy, it was seen by a relatively small number of folks and yet had beautiful, heart-tingling imagery and a soulful message.

Germinated seeds.

In most cases, germination doesn’t really mean life or death… success or failure.

Merely making the effort to succeed is enough. There are layers to seed growth. Not every plant has to be a huge monolith, like Jack’s beanstalk.

But I still feel small.

I’m spending a good deal of time these days working with a Syrian refugee who is struggling mightily to make the unexpected, tumultuous transition to Canadian life.

His seeds of potential are buried deep inside the earth under layers of war and deprivation, and I fear it may take years to surface and germinate.

The relatively palatial lifestyle of native-born Canadians and other Syrians who came before him with higher levels of education are irksome and heavy on his soul.

He’s helplessly hoping impatient because he can’t turn off the images that bombard him in his new country.

He wants it all for his family, a wife and four young children. I want it for him too and wrestle with the discomfort and ache of watching his contest.

His desire to be BIG in a new land seems to barely match my small goals.

Here I am dealing with my 1st-world desire to channel my inner Man-in-Black Cash. On the other side of the fence, is my Syrian friend who merely wants enough language, education, employment and green cash to raise his kids to be good Canadians and become part of the dream he floats alongside of but isn’t part of, at least not yet.

I feel BIG, yes, but really I feel small.

Canada's PM Trudeau shakes hands with a Syrian refugee during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Are You Winning The Wind Game?

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March Wind

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

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

kites.jpg

March is the month of wind.

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

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

Lion winds. Hobo winds.

Cold winds, warm winds.

No winds, sunny winds.

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

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

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

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

scoreboard

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

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

I overcame and still won.

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

SCORE: Me 1, Wind 0.

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

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

Score: Me 1, Wind 1.

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

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

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

Sad story and a sad Tie.

Score: Me 2, Wind 2.

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

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

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

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

Score: Me 3, Wind 2.

strong wind

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perception

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