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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

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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

The FOCUS of My Love and Hate

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focus.jpg

OMG… could I be more distracted?

Don’t answer that. Of course I could.

I love this new world. I hate this new world.

I love… I hate… I love… I hate…

  • I love that I can learn about anything or nothing at all at the drop of a hat because I have access to almost every brilliant (or demented) mind that has breathed air on this earth.
  • I love that I can read every poetic line penned, listen to every musical song written, the original artist or a dozen cover versions…
  • I love that I can book a trip, buy a book, sell a stuffed moose, give away a cat, check my APPLE stock dividend payment, order a pizza, study screenwriting with Aaron Sorkin, download a detailed guitar tab for Please Come to Boston.
  • And yes, I love that I can see Hillary Clinton naked (those photos aren’t Photoshopped, are they?), if I feel my carnal desire arising.

… all from the very spot where I sit writing this blog post… in total comfort, with a steaming hot latte at my right elbow, Cali cat warmly schnoozing at my feet (I have a cat to give away if you’re interested! Sorry Cali…)

How many historic kings would have deliriously surrendered their castles for such indulgence?

  • I hate that I’m able to do all of the things above because it keeps me from working away for 1,000 or 10,000 hours on the stuff that’s key to my inner thrive, my need for productivity, my drive towards goals and desires. The internet well has no bottom, no end, it defines infinity in our everyday more vividly than contemplating the cosmos with a telescope. It’s a rogue thief that I don’t lock my doors against.
  • I hate that I struggle to finish reading a book… hell, I often struggle to finish a chapter in a book because my ADHD mind goes off like crazed fireworks in all directions and before I know it I’m scanning a web recipe for Penne alla Vodka or The World’s Best Chocolate Cake.

Throughout history, the world has been filled with artisans and specialists who dedicated their brief mortal lifetimes to mastering their craft, whether it was writing, or masonry, or ballet, basically any form of technical or creative endeavour that struck a chord.

Today this is hugely challenging.

And yes, we all know the answer why…

It takes a uniquely special and focused person to tune out the myriad distractions that fill us up with Facebook videos/messages and Instagram posts and e-mail memes, games and puzzles and “forwards” and “cc”s.

FOCUS is unsentimental and stern, like a nun with a ruler in her hand. FOCUS doesn’t care if you love her.

I want to write songs badly (but not BAD songs!). Well-written songs are beautiful children that bring us smiles and deep warmth, comfort in the evening’s twilight.

songwriting

In my imagination I view myself, Walter Mitty-like, laser-focused, moving forward, writing songs based on inspirational ideas that come to me in the middle of the night, in that wonderful dark room inside my head where my dream life is less distracted.

Certainly, writing a blog post takes a moderate degree of focus. In fact, writing these posts is one exercise I crave to keep my head grounded in concentrated reality.

But composing a song is a different level of focus, the difference between simple arithmetic and challenging algebra.

Musical writing … composing… is a multitask activity that gathers the need for lyrical, poetic inspiration interbred with musical melody and harmony.

It links back to the idea of musical prosody… melody and rhythm and lyrics that embrace like young lovers in a masterpiece that makes us believe the words and music are as one… inseparable and shallow without the other.

But that’s my imagination.

My reality is less idealistic, more scattered, more ordinary and everyday… more in sync with the current technology schizophrenia that traps many of us.

There are lists all over magazine covers and the internet with apparently simple answers to the puzzle that is focus…. Live Your Legend- 11 Steps to Insane Focus: Do More of What Matters …  8 Ways To Improve Your Focus – Fast Company … 12 Ways To Be More Focused And Get More Things Done Quickly. 

But MY best answer to this faraway bewildered quandary is my plain old non-technical caffeine and a daily TO DO List. And if a messy, paper-cluttered desk is any indication of a genius mind, Einstein and I could be twins.

The bottom line is we know FOCUS is hard work. F-words have a way of getting under our skin and stirring us up.

So even though I occasionally grouse about distractions – our love/hate relationship – the truth is I love this time and place where technology is sometimes taxing but ultimately an amazing perk… a creative self-care gift basket.

computer kid

Mountain View From My Cluttered Mind

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Peeing superheroes.jpg

Now, mountaineering for me has been the motivator, the initiator, that keeps me from falling asleep in life. I say that because I tend to find, now I’ve turned 40, myself getting into this waking sleep that I notice a lot of people do down here. I think we all need initiators or motivators to remind us again and again what we’re capable of and to remind us of those ideals that we hold close to our hearts. 

Laurie Skreslet

Don’t give me MARVEL or DC comic heroes, no Spiderman, Black Widow or Iron Man, no Han Solo or Indiana Jones.

NO! Not for this earthly mortal.

I crush only on true flesh and blood heroes… YES! I kiss real inspirationists (my new word!)

Many years back I attended a medical lab conference where the Keynote speech featured a motivational talk by Canadian mountain climber Laurie Skreslet.

I shuffled into the large conference hall for the breakfast talk – caffeine had barely begun seeping into my bloodstream – with low expectations.

An hour later I bounced from the room loaded with fireworks and energy, piss and vinegar.

A superb speaker and motivator, Skreslet gave me spiritual CPR with his words and photos that morning.

Skreslet didn’t just present himself as a man of theoretical ideas. Do this. Do that… Rah-rah!

I love inspiration but not from false prophets. No Kardashians, no Gweneth Paltrows, no pretenders or theorists. Doers are my inspiration.

Laurie Skreslet was the first Canuck to successfully scale muscular Mount Everest (1982), although in the process, 4 others perished in the notoriously treacherous Khumbu Icefall section of the climb.

He was a man of action and persistence. He was a man who walked his talk. He set himself a huge goal and never wavered with unflagging courage and determination.

Strangely, he became an early hero of mine even though I’ve never attempted a true mountain climb in my life.

Oh sure, I once nearly reached the summit of B.C.’s Mount Cheam (2,104 m (6,903 ft)) but my wife and I chickened out when a crawl along a narrow ledge with 2,000 m of unobstructed air beneath was required. Craggy mountain hikes that require a change of underwear are not in my wheelhouse.

Sure, I’ve hiked to the top of Scotland’s Ben Nevis (1,345 m (4,411 ft.)), the UK’s tallest mountain.

Sure, I’ve inched my way up the glaciers well above Interlaken and Grindelwald, Switzerland.

Sure, I’ve strolled at much higher elevations in Peru (hell, for almost 4 months, we lived and breathed the thin air of Cusco which sits at 3,399 m (11,150 ft.)).

But… none of those compare with a minute on deadly Mt. Everest.

Mountains make great metaphors. Beauty and danger are unnerving and explosive.

Mountains are something we can all picture and understand. Mountains are a superb symbol for human striving, goal setting and achievement, coping and surviving.

painting mountain.jpg

We all have our own mountain(s)…. and each of us is perched at a different spot on our mountain. The view from the mountain is unique for every person.

Mountains are climbed every minute  – physical accomplishments, cancer, accidents, deformities and disabilities, school, work, charity.

Mountains are precarious and dangerous.

In my own sphere of hero worship and mountain climbing, I’ve seen the awkward stumbles of Lance Armstrong, Woody Allen, Tiger Woods, JFK, Bill Clinton… people whose accomplishments I admire.

Real life heroes, unlike most of the comic book superheroes, are mere mortals filled with angst and weakness in other arenas of their lives. They don’t always clean their room before saving the world.

I spend a good part of my time on the lookout for heroes that help me up my mountain… inspirational men and women who live a life of wonder and discovery and reinvention.

World leaders, scientists, athletes, writers, artists, religious leaders, inventors, composers, philanthropists, musicians, physicians, teachers, judges… or… sometimes I put on a pedestal those I see as decent, respectful, compassionate, empathetic, generous, tolerant, humble, responsible, trustworthy.

One thing I’ve learned is that the inspirationalist should be admired for the inner strength and accomplishments that spurred them to excellence. This is what they bring to our table for us to emulate and model.

Admiration of the hero for their personal magnetism or impressive character is too often a set-up for disappointment.

With the #MeToo movement afoot, we’re seeing this on display over and over and over again. So let’s stop being foolish and hitching our wagons to the “beauty and wonder” of the hero’s personality and goodness.

Love the action, not the actor. Worship the heroic, not the hero.

Heroes pee and poop and fumble and crawl. They just so happen to also do miraculous deeds.

I still have my long list of folks I admire… their heroics are my energy source, the protein in my inspiration diet.

A short list today?: Tim Ferriss (author and life experimenter), Chris G (local soup kitchen crazy chef), Aaron Sorkin and Nora Ephron (movie/TV screenwriters), Brenda M (eternally bright Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferer), Stephen King (author), Cathie R (empathetic novel idea generator), James Taylor (tireless musical performer), Tommy Emmanuel (guitarist extraordinaire), Majed A (Syrian ESL student/optimist). The list is fluid and dynamic.

 

……………….

Laurie Skreslet stood briefly atop his mountain. Then he climbed back down and continues climbing other mountains to this day.

I celebrate his heroics and the inspiration he has given me to climb my own metaphorical mountains.

Celebrate your accomplishments. Celebrate the strength that gets you through the minutes, hours, and days of an injury or serious health issue. Celebrate the fact that you find a way to overcome the fear that could paralyze.

It’s wondrous to do things you haven’t done before or that you were afraid of doing, and it deserves a pat on the back… and a visit to the pub or the teahouse (or chocolate aisle!) when you’re done.

You ARE capable of much more than you think. We all are.

… I think very few of us in our life are ever lucky enough to get a glimpse of what we are actually capable of doing and I think in a sense we’re all climbers in a way. Perhaps my mountains are more of the mountains of deprivation, hardship, cold–maybe your mountains are mountains of planning, preparation, mountains of endeavour as it were…

Laurie Skreslet

mountain ironing.jpg

300… The Vagenda Continues

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300

300 blog posts. 300,000 words. On my way to 10,000 hours and mastery.

HOLY SMOKES! I’ve been writing these weekly missives for almost 6 years now. Thank you for your help in pushing me along this winsome winding road. I appreciate your generous Samaritanism.

One sunny day in June 2012 I sat and pecked out my first blog article .

Genesis began with the obvious hint that I would be exploring and commenting on the Mars vs Venus tangle we find ourselves amidst in the world of men and women.

I know. It’s lunatic foolish of me to think that I – a tiny bobbing boat – could find an understanding where other brighter ships have crashed on the rocks.

My foolishness persists to this day. Go figure.

But let’s be clear. It’s not one-sided although it is unbalanced. Men misunderstand women and women misunderstand men. Human math says it should be an equal equation x=y. That day is not yet today.

And to add to the doggy-pile of confusion is intra-gender misunderstanding. Hell, I’m a man and I frequently don’t get men.

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Yeah, I get frustrated with my own gender. Bigly.

Only last night I was playing my guitar at an Open Mic, watching a couple of middle-aged men guzzle down entire over-sized bottles of beer in one gulp and yelling loudly so that none of us could hear other performers giving their heartfelt best on stage. SHUT UP A**holes !! (Aside: They were kindly quiet for the first 2 of my songs, but couldn’t contain their boisterousness for the 3rd piece I played!)

That doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up and walk away. Attempts at understanding in all directions is what propels us forward. That’s why we should all travel and immerse ourselves in other cultures and religions and beliefs.

It seems kind of fitting today to return to the topic that I began musing on those 6 years back with the maelstrom of news and comment regarding #MeToo and #TimesUp

Women are an unstoppable force driving us forward in the new world of brains vs brawn. The crystal ball is as clear as the chill ice I see on the lakes in the nearby mountains.

The fleeting rise of TrumpWorld has merely highlighted the schism that exists and which will inevitably tumble avalanche-like in a totally new direction. HUGE.

Dinosaurs died out many millennia ago and sadly, men are today’s dinosaurs… of course we won’t die out but we are having to accept, adapt and change our “DNA”. The metamorphosis needed has to occur a hell of a lot more quickly than what Darwin observed on the Galapagos.

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Happily, I feel confident it will.

On the flip-side, I know that I… yes, even little me… contain some fragments of that outdated dinosaur DNA just as I’m filled with the brawny DNA that drives my attraction to the female gender and not my own male brethren.

Like you, I’m a product of the generation and the culture in which I was raised.

Adapting to new social realities is like trying to maintain currency with the advances in the software and apps that flood my tech world on a daily basis. Am I the last one left to own a paper printer? I can only absorb and redesign myself so much over a short time frame. For sure I feel the dogs snapping at my heels.

So maybe you’ll understand that while I’m fully supportive of the feminist movements zooming up in my rear view mirror – I condemn the crass stupidity of men where sexuality and harassment are concerned – I’m also fearful of what I say and where I step.

My funny-bone misfires. My explanations sometimes lack nuance or sensitivity. Those times I don’t step on a landmine with my words, generally mean that at best I’ve trod in some stinky shit on the pathway. Some choice, eh?

This is my daily reality now… my emotion, my motivation, my personal experience.

 

  • I’ve never lived a world of gender-linked cruelty or suffering… the infuriating or fearful experience of sexual pressure (not on a true physical or financial level anyways).
  • I’ve never been callously subjugated because of the tint of my skin.
  • I’ve never felt heartless persecution because of some God I do or don’t believe in.
  • I’ve never encountered a curb or a building I couldn’t enter because my legs weren’t capable of lifting me up.

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That’s not my reality. Those aren’t my tears.

The best that I can do is to try to empathize and imagine those experiences by observing and understanding what others pass through.

It’s never enough but it’s all I have. This is what I want women to know when I mess up.

#MeToo and #TimesUp are movements I enthusiastically support but will not for a moment be a real part of and will never viscerally know from my own involvement.

So I’ll keep trying to understand.

300 posts down… I’ll continue (until I don’t) writing my weekly words despite the chaos and chatter between my ears… words, sentences, and paragraphs where I’ve chatted about positivity and inspiration and aspiration and music and movies and writing and exercise and creativity… and the lyrical poetry and wonder that exists between men and women… things that I believe to be true in my vision of the world.

… until My Times Up.

Thanks for joining me and the 300 club today.

woman and man

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow…

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Do you hear Lindsey, Stevie, and Fleetwood Mac floating past in the background?

I’m not a religious guy.

You may know this.

Not religious in the traditional sense of God and heaven and hell and all that.

But I find beautiful moments of inspiration and indeed, spirituality, in the things I see and hear, and the people I encounter.

Last week, I played my guitar and sang at a local church supper. They know I’m not religious.

I carefully chose songs to play that I figured were humble and kind, you know, innocuous from a “Godly” perspective.

I strummed and picked my guitar and was having a great time crooning away… If you could read my mind love what a tale my thoughts ….

I figured that 15 or 16 songs would be plenty for the occasion, but then I reached the end of my playlist.

The group asked for just one or two more songs. An encore? For me? My ego jumped a tall fence like a bounding deer.

I have a pretty big repertoire of tunes in my quiver and so I happily launched into another song.

The first verse and chorus sailed along smoothly… and then… I realized as I approached the second verse that the song I was singing contained sexual, nudity-type references. Not nasty, violent or hurtful stuff, but adult in nature.

Oh SHIT (sorry… SHOOT!). Panic city. There were children and elderly in the group.

What were my choices? Should I stop singing now? A whole novella of coping ideas ran up and down the hallways of my brain as I smiled outwardly and sang onward.

I squirmed uncomfortably inside as I neared the part in the lyrics that I figured was somewhat incompatible with proper Christian values…  at least while ensconced in God’s shelter.

Now I know good Christians have sex, lots of it if they’re lucky, so I wasn’t unleashing some erotic blasphemy into their happy haven. But I fretted (get it?, guitar playing… fretted? Never mind!) nonetheless.

My solution?

As I meandered into the lyrical minefield I slowly lowered the volume of my voice and craftily turned my head away from the microphone in a truly artistic way so that the mic wouldn’t pick up the “naughty” lyrics.

From the corner of my eye, I spied no one appearing uncomfortable.

Whew… maybe I had managed to wiggle my way out of God’s wrath from above… maybe.

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I’m sorry. Excuse me.

All of this is irrelevant and unrelated to what I was going to tell you. You know, the inspiring part.

Have I mentioned that this post is about inspiration? It is.

After I finished playing, I was conversing with some of these good church folk who were so warm and appreciative.

I stopped to chat with a darling little 90 year old lady who smiled and expressed her appreciation to me (she obviously missed my sex-related lyrics!… or maybe NOT!). Then she commented that she had played guitar herself in her younger years.

She asked, “do you think it’s too late for me to take some guitar lessons?”

That was the sweetest music of the night in my ears. “Of course not.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

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Life and love and learning (and sex) don’t have to end when we strike upon some magical age like 60, 70, 80, 90.

Len at my gym is 93 this year and lifts weights like a robust 40 year old.

On another stimulating tangent, this past weekend I felt inspired by two others in my sphere.

By late fall, I’m usually well past the summer mindset where long running stints are possible.

Like skiing in April or golfing in October, the season just seems to be finished and stowed away like Christmas ornaments on New Year’s Day. We move on.

But last Sunday, my brother … my almost-4-years-older-than-me brother… ran his very first Marathon race in Ontario. That’s 26.2 miles ….42.2 kilometres… more than 4 hours of non-stop running. His body is a well-tuned middle-aged+ machine. Incroyable!

I’ve done marathon runs in my 30’s, 40’s, 50’s … I know how incredibly demanding it is and how much mental strength it takes to train for the endurance run.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

The same day, a local friend of mine ran through icy and snow patches in a 20 kilometre trail running event along the Kettle Valley Trail line. She’s in her early 30’s but dedication and motivation and perseverance hang over her like an energetic halo.

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

There I have a trio of perfect inspirational examples… one in her 30’s… one, his 60’s… another in her 90’s.

All of these people are “ordinary” in the sense that they aren’t superhuman to the best of my awareness. But they have “extraordinary” heart and drive powered by a youthful zest.

They each contain their own clues of how they reach for something special. I want those clues to become mine.

Each of them makes my heart beat quicker, and gives me a boost of inspiration.

As I grow older it becomes easier and easier to inwardly reflect and focus backwards to the days when, as Billy Joel sings, “I wore a younger man’s clothes“. Memories are wonderful gems that we can hug and admire and treasure.

But looking in the mirror at what is and has been is a delicious distraction, a distraction that shouldn’t prevent me from gazing out the window and discovering what else lies on the future horizon… ravishing orange-flavoured sunsets can be followed by amazingly bright and cheery sunrises.

The best thing I can do today is to finish writing this blog post, learn a new song (maybe one about sex) on my guitar, think about all the inspirational people that surround me, smile, and say to myself, 

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow…

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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

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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.

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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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