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Ransom Note To Your Inner Discovery

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writer frustrated

Aaaaargh… what will this f*ing protagonist do next? How in hell will he extricate himself from a near certain lengthy prison sentence?

With the sun slipping low towards the shadowy horizon, the ideas, the muse, were roaming free and unwilling to return to the stall of the barn inside my head.

Five years ago this coming month I sent myself a (figurative) ransom note.

I embarked on a month-long odyssey to write a 50,000 word novel along with 3 or maybe 400,000 others in the online pilgrimage to writing called NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.

Hopeful hundreds of thousands of quietly sequestered souls across the globe sought inspiration and profound thoughts in the bedrooms and home offices of their own towns and boroughs and landscapes. My writerly setting was this dry, fruit tree and vineyard-draped valley with a narrow lake snaking through it in a tiny Canadian town called Summerland.

The simple gist of the composition adventure is to begin… and finish… writing a novel during the month of November.

Anyone can enter.

Anyone can do it. Even you. No cost. Sign up here.

All you need to do is sit and compose an average of 1,666 words each day.

Black and white. Yin and yang. So simple and so difficult.

Here, let me give you some context.

I pull together this blog once a week and it usually slides in around the 1,000 word mark.

Typically it takes me about 5 or 6 hours of writing and editing, obsessing, drinking lattes, then writing and editing, obsessing some more… That means for NaNoWriMo I was writing about 1.5 blog posts EVERY day for a full month.

Easy peasy, right?

Sure. Easy if you’re supernatural JK Rowling or Stephen King, people of intense focus and creative ability and stamina.

Stephen King wrote a great book on the subject of writing called, appropriately… duh: On Writing.

King may be a “pulp” writer and sit low on the esteem scale with some out there (there are many of his books that even I don’t like), but he’s an unimaginably productive and creative freak of nature.

Stephen King and JK Rowling

A Bonanza of Creative Brain-Force

King’s high up on my formidably long HERO List (Woody Allen has… again… sigh… plummeted this week).

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We are writers and we never ask one another where we get our ideas; we know we don’t know

…………..

My NaNoWriMo novel attempt, The Temper of the Times, was the story of an adult man who testifies in court against the accused rapist of his boyhood sweetheart. Years later, he is sent to jail himself after killing the paroled rapist in self-defense, while his former girlfriend is torn between her defender and her frustrated Peruvian-born husband-physician whom she brought to live in her west coast Canada community.

Interesting? Maybe. We’ll never know as the 50,000 words (YES! I completed it!) I wrote over 30 days languish in a drawer… a sticky drawer where I lack the drive to bring it home.

NaNoWriMo is akin to being in solitary confinement of the Orange is the New Black prison for 30 days.

As I sat in my home office pecking away faithfully day after day I found myself daydreaming of slipping self-directed ransom notes under the door seeking rescue from the bonds I had voluntarily shackled myself with.

I reminded and coached myself constantly with cliched platitudes… nothing good comes without pain or struggle… patience is virtue… hard work is its own reward…

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Writing should be a pleasurable activity. I love blog writing.

Writing should be stimulating and intoxicating, self-examining and saintly.  I attempt to do that in my weekly blurbs.

Writers are romanticized in books, TV, movies… it’s a pseudo-bucolic life of intellectual stimulus and reflection and creativity. I think romantically about myself all the time, that’s how I became Master of My Own Domain at 13!

Participating in NaNoWriMo is like becoming an anthropologist: an unexpected yet powerful self-discovery tool.

The #1 greatest take away I stumbled on in writing a couple of thousand words every day for a month?

I have an enormous respect and admiration for the writers out there who toil in quiet solitude developing ideas and intricate stories and pictures based on their life experiences and observations, or from extensive research and study.

The second greatest lesson was more of an internal discovery.

I’m not cut out for writing novel length stories. The intense, patient focus needed is foreign to my genetic composition. Sure, I can do it if necessary but it doesn’t take me to a happy place in any way similar to the joy I feel in participating in 5 or 6 very different activities, like running or blogging or playing guitar, in a day.

It’s like the staring game that kids play… who will blink first. I’d never win.

Stupid, I’d think. Let’s move on, there 10 other neat things to do.

Stephen King can sit on his ass for 4 or 5 hours every single day (including Christmas, he’s a workhorse) and massage his mind and writing muscles. I’m impressed.

But my massage comes in a potpourri of snippets running wildly off in different directions.

The ancient Greeks originated the maxim: “Know thyself“…

Benjamin Franklin in his Poor Richard’s Almanac observed the great difficulty of knowing one’s self, with: “There are three things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.

NaNoWriMo was a 30-day trial of steel and diamonds for the lessons it taught me. If you try it out you may find the same.

I’ll finish up this mere 1,000 word blog post with a few questions for you to ponder.

How well do you know yourself?

How do you unearth your internal answers?

Have you tried writing a ransom note to yourself where you’ll set yourself free only after you’ve made the discovery that sets you on fire?

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I … Movie Maker

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FADE IN:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even a bad movie inspires me in some way.

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

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

Inspiration is always the first step.

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

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

And yet. I feel the welling of inspiration.

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

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

For a while.

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

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

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

Aaron Sorkin: Screenwriting

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

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

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

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

West wing

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

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

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

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

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

We watch and grow in microscopic increments.

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

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

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

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

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

FADE OUT.

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I Can’t… But I Can… 

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I’m not Pollyanna.

There are some things I can do.

There are some things I can’t do.

There are some things I don’t wanna do.

There are some things I shouldn’t do.

I’ve had some fun. But was it worth it?

I was handcuffed once and taken into custody. Twice actually. By the RCMP, not a BDSM lover.

It’s a long story I may tell you one day, but it was worth it.

YK Handcuffed  2

The morning following my 21st birthday, I gin-vomited my way from room to room around Stanton Yellowknife Hospital while doing my rounds collecting blood samples for lab testing.

I shouldn’t have done it but was the fun of the night before worth it? Yeah, it was!

She made me feel good, until she didn’t. I broke up with a nice girl, a girl who liked me a lot, merely because she cut off my oxygen supply with her tongue while we were kissing.

I selfishly let her become too attached just so I had a girlfriend. I still feel badly. It wasn’t worth it.

I smoke cigars. Occasionally. I love the musky scent and the feeling of relaxation it imparts.

Short-term it feels worth it. Long-term? Maybe not.

I’ve invested in companies – relying on others’ advice –  without doing my own intense research to see if they were great investments for long-term wealth.

I’ve almost always lost money when I got lazy and let someone else make my decisions for me. Definitely not worth it.

LARRY SPEC CARRIER TIFF

Relying on others’ investment advice at 10 years of age!

I’ve gossiped behind the backs of people I considered friends, saying nasty caustic stuff.

Never worth it. ’nuff said.

………………..

Do. Or do not. There is no try.”    

Yoda.

Actually Yoda, there is a try. There should always be a try. A try with conviction and curiosity and wonder.

A lovely friend across the globe has been recently diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

She’s accepting of her fate, acknowledging the role of long-term smoking, while appreciating the wonderful opportunities she’s had. There’s a contented resignation to the approaching darkness at the end of the tunnel.

Whenever we hear of someone whose existence has just ended or is nearing their end, we internalize and meditate on our own lives and silently wonder if we should be happy with where our lives have taken us. It’s natural and human.

I know I think about the things I’ve done, the things I’ve not done, and those things I can’t do.

My solution? The voice goes a bit like this… “I can’t do ‘x’ anymore” But on the other hand, “I can do ‘y’!“.

I can try.

We can all try.

If you have an accident or illness and sever a leg and you’re an avid runner, then you know you can’t run anymore (or maybe you can, look at Terry Fox)… but you can still exercise your body with swimming or weight training or wheelchair athletics. Thousands have. Witness the Invictus Games.

To try is to hope. We all need hope. Hope is purpose.

Today, I’m reflecting on the stuff I could do in my earlier years but maybe I have difficulty with now.

Sometimes it’s a physical issue, but often it’s a mind issue.

My “Yoda-try” response is to substitute something else I can do now that maybe I didn’t or couldn’t do back then. I try.

Here, let me give you a few examples:

I can’t run a 10k race anywhere close to the 40 minute pace I could manage 25 years ago.

But I can run a half decent half-marathon once or twice a year. It’s slow, but damned pleasing to cross that finish line knowing that my body has been an active friend for 2 hours

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I can’t become a fabulously famous rock/folk/country performer.

But I can sing with a larger range and more emotional depth and connection than I could in my teens and 20’s. Bigger still is the sense of confidence in writing and performing that increases along with the age on my birth certificate. 

I can’t discipline myself sufficiently to write an entire novel.

But I can find the discipline to write and share a thousand words with you here every week. Acknowledging and understanding my strengths and limitations is deeply satisfying.

I can’t make a beautiful flaky pie crust worth a damn.

But I can cook up a pretty impressive assortment of ethnic foods that I’ve learned from home cooks and cooking classes around the world. I’ll just appreciate the amazing pie crusts that others have the skills to execute.

I can’t sleep on the hard ground on a farmer’s field like I did in the English countryside in my early 20’s.

But I can hold out a credit card with my name on it and sleep in an incredibly comfortable cozy bed in a fancy hotel or resort in Canada or pretty much anywhere in the world. Age and saved/invested wealth bestow some pretty incredible benefits. 

I can’t ever have a high-powered corporate career with the all the bells and whistles and stimulating highs and crushing lows. 

But I can take on little “careers” like making and serving soup, bartending, tutoring and making music where money making isn’t the primary goal. There are tiny pots of gold at the end of many mini-rainbows.

I can’t stay up til midnight or 2 am partying with high alcoholic energy.

But I can get to sleep at 10 pm and not wake up with ringing ears and pounding temples the next day. A clear head is a magical gift.

OK, maybe I am Pollyanna.

‘Fun’ and ‘Can’ and ‘Can’t’ come in very different packages for each of us. Ain’t individualism great?

But to try is the same package for us all.

To try is hopeful.

To try is courageous.

Nietzsche said: “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life…”

Maybe Nietzsche knew something even more profound than that weird little green Yoda.

Yoda apple

 

Are You Reeling In The Years?

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Time passing painting

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

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

Steely Dan

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

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

This is good news and bad news.

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

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

Inspector Clouseau

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

Infinite jest. Time and years.

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

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

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

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

That was then.

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

HELP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

woan with dog at sunset

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.

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