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The Unbearable Suffering of the Dog and the Underdog

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It’s DOGGY Day!

I dig in a lot on this blog site about fighting hard to stay positive.

It’s a pep talk I push at you and also send back at myself, because it’s so difficult and takes a lot of reminding.

So, like a good Jewish mother, remind I will.

There are tsunamis of negativity out there in the news and in our daily experience that could drag us into a pit of despair, frustration, and anger; it takes huge energy and eternal optimism to remain at the surface of an ocean of negativity.

Making this even more challenging is that all my life I’ve felt like a lucky guy who both somehow attracts, and is attracted to, the melancholy couture of the underdogs of humanity and also the suffering of dogs and all other animals.

I have a positive and a negative pole of mourning.

I want everyone to feel like they’ve experienced the luck and good fortune that I have in their brief shot in the billions-to-one lottery win that is life.

I identified with the underdog and felt empathy for those who were tossed in fate’s storms. In early grade school, I would encourage the outcasts to sit beside me on the bus during school trips.

I love this empathy and I hate it simultaneously because I want to play God and relieve the anguish that so many endure… and most times… I can’t.

To attempt at being a superhero to those in need, while dealing with my inner narcissist, is a nasty duel that doesn’t often turn out as I hope.

Early this morning I was standing in the checkout line at my local Superstore, and there was a pair of men right in front of me, unloading their groceries onto the conveyor belt. Honestly, I felt a bit nervous and threatened by their appearance.

Mid 30’s, unkempt, small tears in their dirty t-shirts, gaps in their teeth, some even blackened with decay.

One looked like he may have been First Nations, I can’t be sure. He fidgeted a lot as his items were put through the scanner.

After all the items were through and totalled up, he decided he needed a lighter, so I slid my cart back so he could reach the shelf where chocolate bars and miscellaneous things (like lighters) were held. He grabbed one and put it on the conveyor belt. The cashier scanned it and told him his updated total.

He looked back and forth nervously and said he wanted a chocolate bar. I slid my cart back again and he reached for a Kit Kat but changed his mind and turned to another shelf where he struggled to decide, before slowly picking up two packs of gum and putting them on the conveyor. Once again his total was read out.

He pulled a charge/debit card from his jean’s pocket and held it to the reader. It let out a loud CLONK sound. Payment REFUSED. He did it again… same CLONK. The cashier suggested he try putting the card inside the reader and enter his PIN code.

Head hung low facing the ground, he shook his head, turned first left, then right, then wordlessly walked towards and out the exit door, his three full, plastic grocery bags remained sitting to the left of the cashier.

I could almost feel tears in my eyes as I sensed his shame and disappointment, maybe even rage, I’m just guessing.

Quickly, my emotions turned to anger and disgust when the woman shopper in her 50’s behind me shook her head and muttered disdainfully… “Those people“.

Her judgment utterance was instantaneous and I felt shame again but in a different vein than the shame I held inside just seconds earlier.

She judged the fellow (as did I but in a sad and not critical way). And now I was judging her and making assumptions about her. Talk about a vicious circle and one that highlights so much of what we all see in the world today.

“The practice – Catch yourself before you are judgmental. How do you stand in awe at what people have to carry rather than in judgment at how they carry it? You are catching yourself all the time.”   
Father Gregory Boyle (NYT Times bestselling author)

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We all judge at times (I do frequently), and see the other as a problem.

One little lesson I take away from my years of working in a lab and collecting blood samples from patients goes like this…

The people I encountered everyday were more than likely struggling with an internal worry and fear.

They may have had anemia, or leukemia, or cancer of a thousand varieties, or just an annoying vaginal itch that wouldn’t stop irritating.

Yes, they may have looked normal and healthy, but, with few exceptions, these folks were brawling with an inner voice that said over and over to them that they could be very sick or even dying.

If they snapped at me or didn’t respond to niceties, my negative judgment evolved over time from irritation to patience and compassion. I wasn’t walking in their shoes, and if I was, I would likely act in the same manner I told myself.

So nowadays when I’m in the supermarket and something a bit unusual happens like the incident I’ve talked about above (and no one is in danger), I (YODA)- try to find my inner compassion (and I’m not always successful), because I don’t know the story of their life or this moment.

All the dogs out there, whether two-legged or four-legged deserve my best attempt at understanding.

A New Season

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He had recently retired… he was mostly bald… he’d experienced one heart attack in his late 50’s… he exercised little beyond walking… he was an old man (like most men his age at the time)… he was 65… he was my father.

Dad was in the winter of his years as his health went into a steady decline and he slipped his earthly bonds at age 73.

This year I’m turning 65 too, and as such I’m feeling an inner psychological change. It’s a perception…

It’s like I’m entering a new season. Maybe my leaves are turning from green to yellow and red. But it’s not winter… not YET!

Life comes in seasons.

Let’s set this scenario up, shall we?

SPRING – 0-25 years

SUMMER – 25-65 years

FALL – 65-80 years

WINTER – 80+ years

I’ve made these seasons up.

You’ll likely agree with these parameters… or… vehemently disagree. No problem… it’s an artificial construct and totally based on today’s average lifespans and my whim.

I’ve had all of those life experiences that come with the spring and summer of a life: dependence on Mom and Dad, the naive, wide-eyed early school years, the tumultuous teens, high school, college, early romances, marriage, jobs, kids, travel, hair loss, “retirement”, first grandchildren.

The early seasons are full: full of expectations, full of dreams, full of stresses, full of ecstasies, full of busy, full of sorrows, full of joys.

Today, the hair on my head, once my pride of luxury, thick and soft, is grey, thin and wiry, the skin on my face is lined and wrinkled, my legs don’t run as fast as they once did, my eyes struggle to read anything close up without “readers”.

Yes, I’d say I’m in the fall of my timeline, and while I’m not terrifically excited about aging, I accept its inevitability, although the increasing speed of time passing by me now is a daily shock.

For sure it’s not the beginning, but it’s also not the end (I hope).

It’s not my winter… and I’d love to write another post here in 15 years telling you that turning 80 is also not truly winter. Time will tell, right?

I have lots of passion and energy remaining most days, enthusiasm thrives inside me for the many things I enjoy: running, playing guitar, songwriting, travelling, grandparenting, cooking, swimming, volunteering, gardening, cycling… the list goes on.

In my life’s experience and cultural awareness, 65 was always the turning point where we shed the working world and settled into a rocking chair on the front porch… waiting… stagnating… imparting wisdom to little minds (kids, not idiots!)… counting the minutes and days until… until…

It’s time to look at age and aging afresh with a new awareness.

So going forward I’ll start reminding myself that these seasons, these artificial constructs, are markers but not barriers. Newness, learning, and physical movement don’t have to fall by the wayside because of our chronology.

I’m saying all of this to you as a reminder to me that our minds are our biggest enemy (at times) but also our best friends.

Let’s (Yoda) try to cherish and nurture this friendship regardless of the season where we find ourselves.

When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride
But always stay humble and kind

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you’re going don’t forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind

Lori McKenna (popularized by Tim McGraw)

The Upside Down Devil On My Shoulder

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D‘oh… I woke up last night with a Pessimist Devil on my shoulder.

WTH? Where did YOU come from?

I’ve had an Optimist Angel on my other shoulder for a long time, but this new little Satan is gnawing at me… *SHOO!*

I’m living in a world of confusion… I’m more befuddled today than I’ve been in my entire dinosaur-aged life.

More befuddled than when I first saw race walkers in the Olympics and wondered… “WHY?” Are they racing to the bathroom but don’t want to run and cause an explosion?

More befuddled than a peephole placed on the edge of a glass door.

More befuddled than a golf ball decked out with camouflage paint.

I want to be an optimist.

I really really REALLY want to be an optimist.

I look at major components of our world and see a HUGE wave of historic hope and cheer.

There are a number of reputable reports telling us that humans are living a far better and safer life than they have in our entire history. What’s not to love? Optimists should be jumping for joy. And yet… it’s hard not to see…

… the Upside Down (see Stranger Things for explanation) in our world… and it’s becoming more and more evident in the past 5-10 years that this alternate dimension is inhospitable to humans and life of all kinds, and should be avoided at all costs.

Here’s the Upside Down shortlist:

Greenhouse gases and climate change

nuclear weapons at the ready in the trigger fingers of demented despots

super-killer guns in kids’ cereal boxes *only a slight exaggeration*

huge swaths of people with “science hatred”

widespread disbelief in clear and obvious facts

xenophobia

expanding wealth gap

viruses

inflation

healthcare inadequacy

Bill Gates

So, is Bill wrong?

Longer-term I don’t think so.

These concerns and worries I’m experiencing are like a pesky mosquito that hums around me in my bedroom darkness… it irritates incessantly but is astonishingly resistant to the “squish”.

I know that modern technology, ubiquitous internet, and social networks are both a panacea and deadly virus wrapped tightly in a single package… we love all the “wonder drug” good they bring us, the angelic positives… communication and education at our fingertips. *Why aren’t you TikTok’ing to me?*

But the devilish negatives, the “Monkeypox” side effects are pressing a colossal thumb on the weigh scales of civilization. Our degrees of humanity are becoming less human and more neanderthal.

Who would have predicted 25 years ago that with greater education, we’d become more stupid in many ways?

As worried as I might seem, I know that humanity (like investments) doesn’t follow a straight-line upwards graph of human progress and happiness. There are tumultuous and painful bumps along the road. Dreadful storms need to be weathered to reach Shangri-La.

The antidote to my pint-sized “shoulder demon”, and my optimistic message to you and me both in these uncertain times, is to take a deep yoga breath and reflect on the “angelic” positives.

Here are just 8 global “angels” to brighten the world:

OK… while it’s pretty clear that the manure of life will never smell like roses…

… we can remind ourselves of the little boy who, upon receiving a pile of horsesh*t for his birthday, immediately began digging through it with glee and excitement… “yippee, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!“”

The New Relativity Theory- The TAO of Larry

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When I hear my father’s voice coming from my mouth, I know I’m an old fogey… let’s face it, merely using the words “old fogey” qualifies me in the Old Fogey Hall of Fame.

It gets worse.

Old fogeys are angry and cantankerous, opinionated and gassy, poorly dressed and often foul-mouthed. I don’t want any of that. I reject old-fogey’dom (even if I share some traits!)!

My Dad often prefaced his sentences with, “In the good ole days….”, or, “In the olden days…

To a kid like me, those 4 or 5 words were the very earliest and best noise-cancelling headphones ever… my ears automatically hit MUTE when I heard them uttered.

More and more as we grow older, we live less and less in the present. The past is our reality.

We begin comparing peoples’ manners, prices, architecture, movies, songs, and, well, you name it, to the way things felt, looked, tasted, and smelled in our younger years… yup, in the good ole days.

It’s all about our personal reference point.

Our reference point for the history of the world begins the day and year we are born.

There is life Before Larry (BL), Early Larry (EL), and finally, After Larry (AL) (substitute your name for Larry).

Everything I learned in school was in the BL times and is truly meaningless, at least to a hapless tween.

BL history is a rehash of the dumb things that occurred in science and the universe in bygone days, which has absolutely no relevance to anyone between the ages of 5 and 15. I grew up believing that Columbus was a hero…. YAY… you discovered North America… huh says every First Nations’ person???

EL covers the time territory between about 15 and 55 years. This is when all things important and memorable occurred. The entire relevant and consequential history of the earth (in our view) takes place in this time frame.

Finally, and the stage I find myself in now is the AL period. This is the time when most of life’s major events have already happened and now all things get compared to those “good old days” of EL

EL is the way things were meant to be, according to the TAO of Larry (once again, substitute your name here). Nothing that happened before or after this era should ever change.

  • Old fogeys slip into grousing about the younger generation and their use of computers and cellphones and games.
  • Old fogeys protest the need for “apps” to do stuff.
  • Old fogeys lament the loss of courtesy.
  • Old fogeys say ALL politicians are liars and all people are heterosexual.
  • Old fogeys say that their music was better and more melodic/more danceable/more XYZ.

Old fogeys think that everything was better in years past because that was their norm, their reference point from which to judge the world.

Funny but true? The world changes. Always has. Always will.

Some things will be better. Some things will be worse. Most things will be neither except in the subjective eye of the beholder.

The universe is expanding and so should we.

Perhaps the best way to go about life, regardless of whether it’s from the reference point of BL, EL or AL is to remember the wise words of Desiderata…

…”And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

You Can Become A Minor Hero…

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Every week we are bombarded with yet another new superhero, caped or masked, leotarded or graphite-enshrouded.

Movie and TV screens are filled to the brim with “superheroes”… imaginary beings that save the world… save civilization, save the universe.

Superheroes aren’t really my jam, aside from the quirky Deadpool, who is the weirdest, anti-hero hero. Anyone who makes me belly laugh is inducted into my hero club.

But I prefer to spend my mindspace real estate on real-life, often “minor” heroes.

Since Ukraine has been under attack, I find myself wholly intrigued and mesmerized by Volodymyr Zelensky, a totally unexpected, shockingly surprising hero. A real-life capeless hero.

I know from reading countless Facebook posts over the years that most of us are inspired and lifted by the day-to-day real-life heroes out there. We revere heroes.

The Huffington Posts posits that there are 6 kinds of real-life heroes…. maybe there are more, I don’t know.

  • The Warrior Hero.
  • The Protector Hero.
  • The Healer Hero.
  • The Master Hero.
  • The Leader Hero.
  • The Teacher Hero.

There’s a pretty good chance that you’re one of these. I hope so. You may not even realize it.

There’s a common thread running through these real-life heroes, it’s called…

INSPIRATION

They show us what we can attempt to be as humans and inspire us to become better versions of ourselves. Minor heroes.

My Walter Mitty inner-persona sees myself aspiring to become a saviour of the downtrodden, a visionary to those who need inspiration and hope.

It’s largely a mirage, but an aspiration nonetheless. It takes aspiration to make inspiration to take action.

Real heroes are the people who do little or large things, unexpected things, everyday things, that leave the world around them better or preserve lives.

The best heroes to me are often normal people who scarcely notice how extraordinary they are, often overlooking their contributions because they were never presented with an official cape by the mayor of Gotham City. Humility and heroism are twin virtues.

Becoming a hero is often not a choice, it’s thrust upon us and we must decide if we can or will surmount our personal worries and fears.

Volodymyr Zelensky is the latest, greatest example. There are countless others, in Ukraine and all around the globe, that we never hear about who are saving lives, or making lives better with what they do for little or no recognition.

Take that Vladimir!

Big wars make minor heroes into major heroes (and minor villains into major villains)… small people of all genders and ethnicities and belief systems that rise to the occasion.

Zelensky may – I hope – triumph in his unasked-for quest, or, he may perish and become a martyr, a chapter in a history book like Martin Luther King or Ghandi.

There are Ukrainian heroes, Afghan heroes, Syrian heroes, Jewish, Atheist, Baha’i, Muslim, and Christian heroes… even Russian heroes. Far off and right next-door heroes.

I chop vegetables and make sandwiches a few days a month alongside a longtime friend, a lady at the soup kitchen who birthed 5 kids, two with Cystic Fibrosis. Tough stuff, yes?

Today, retired and all her kids grown: one child has died, one has had a double-lung transplant, another has lupus and heart problems, her husband had a heart attack last year.

Can life get any more difficult for one person? Of course it can, but it’s the fact that she courageously shoulders this life without public complaint, with a cheery smile, and a desire to help others that makes her a hero in my view. A minor hero but a hero still.

Not everyone has to become a big hero. The world needs a major hero from time to time… a Churchill, a Mother Teresa, a Zelensky.

But even more, the world needs an army of minor heroes, or people making daily attempts to make the world a better place with unselfish acts.

And if you look inside yourself, there’s probably a hero buried there too.

I’ll never be a big hero, never a Zelensky, never a Churchill, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Ghandi, or Dalai Lama… the kind of hero who forgoes all rational grasp-holds of safety. I’m merely “Yoda-trying” to find my inner minor hero.

I’ll leave you today with just a few ideas about how you can sew your own cape (maybe don’t squeeze into the leotard, OK?) and become a minor hero in your world…

  • Perform random acts of kindness. 
  • Shovelling your neighbour’s snowy driveway for them.
  • Helping to pay a student’s tuition.
  • Buying lunch for a depressed friend.
  • Buying groceries for someone in need.
  • Taking an elderly neighbour to an appointment.
  • Volunteer your time. 
  • Help build houses with Habitat for Humanity for low-income families.
  • Join a gleaner’s group.
  • Get involved with your neighbourhood clean-up committee or watch group.
  • You don’t always have to volunteer in an official way. You can offer to help a friend move or give up some time to listen when a family member is in need of emotional support.
  • Use small gestures. 
  • Even offering someone kind words can help you grow as a hero. Smile and say thank you to service workers.
  • Bring a friend a fresh flower.
  • Write your mail person a thank you note.
  • Offer your seat on the bus or subway to a pregnant woman, an elderly person, or someone with a cane or crutches.
  • Send a family member a surprise email or text telling them something they did in the past that made you feel good.
  • Promote the Good rather than Oppose the Bad 
  • Attend a “pro” rally instead of an anti-demonstration. Pro-peace, pro-immigrant, pro-BLM or pro-LGBTQ.
  • The most successful, heroic people focus on the positive. 
  • Volunteer Your Treasure
  • Donate a portion of your income (or blood) to help others – people, animals, projects in need.

CORONA-CHRONICLES… The Cup Half-Full Edition

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Good-News-Bad-News

A virus means bad news and perhaps… good news (that is cup half-full shit, I can hear you saying!)

First the bad.

I’m missing my popcorn fix. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

In “ordinary” times we routinely hit the movie theatre an average of about twice each month. Sometimes more if there’s a plethora of quality releases and maybe a bit less when all that’s out there is Sausage Party or Bill and Ted Anything.

I do honestly love popcorn… assuming that the butter:salt ratio is perfect. My Pavlovian response is classic science. I sit in a darkened theatre and get my doggie treat of popcorn just for sitting and watching for 2 hours. It’s perfect.

A picture show… I love absorbing the artistic product of others.

I live in a state of near-constant wonderment at the creativity and skills of a million creators.

I’m also in awe of the mathematics and science creators (researchers and academics),  but unfortunately I can’t as obviously see and experience the products of their tireless efforts. Alright, maybe I CAN every time I sit at a computer or look at my cellphone…

… but, they haven’t found a way of stuffing me with hot buttery popcorn when I view their stuff. What’s with THAT, bright minds? (Does that statement make you think of Lucy and Schroeder, Beethoven and bubblegum cards? At all?)

lucy and schroeder

So there, the bad news is out of the way. Almost…

Yes, more bad news: The obvious… D’OH… Millions will suffer and thousands will die from this black swan novel virus.

It’s not just numbers on a TV screen. It’s real people with real lives and real families. The repercussions will be felt for decades to come. Guess that FAKE NEWS didn’t make it to the White House TV screens.

You’ve suffered enough. Now the good news:

The good news about this virus is that movie theatres will re-open one day and popcorn will pour forth like summer Saskatchewan locusts… OK… not fair there  *slap my typing hands* … how about British Columbia forest fires? That’s better…

Even more good news:

There will be a golden age of scientific innovation in areas we can only dream of, as zillions of dollars and focus drill in on not only virus research but countless other areas and idea spin-offs (yes, Idea Sex).

Wars and moonshots have historically shown us the results of enthusiastic and dedicated research, and a global effort to rocket us forward in good, and sadly sometimes, some not so good ways.

A few little examples of research bonuses: cordless tools, artificial limbs, LED’s, CAT scanners, superglue, radar, GPS, duct tape, epi-pens, penicillin…

I can’t begin to fathom the possibilities that will flow from today’s “let’s science the shit out of this” era of COVID-19… Matt Damon called it correctly in the movie The Martian…

… but I can confidently predict there will be humanity-altering discoveries not just for this particular virus but perhaps for the question of the common cold or a dozen or more other medical mysteries and problems.

There will also be unexpected and surprising innovations unrelated to the cure for a virus. Research has a way of running madly and wildly (and productively) off in many directions. This is usually a good thing. Climate change anyone?

Sadly, there may be some unwanted discoveries that create their own set of future problems. Weaponry of all sorts has progressed negatively in times of global stress before and I anticipate it may once more.

Yes, bad news and good news.

Yin and Yang. Black and white. Push and pull… within Yin lies the seed of Yang and vise versa.

And I can even return to one of my earlier blogs where I quoted the famous country music philosopher Garth Brooks. Brooks meditates on the nature of opposing forces when he describes fame and other aspects of life as, “a blessing and a curse”.

These days of virus awakening will jet-charge those natural opposing forces creating both a blessing and a curse in its wake.

As a cup half-full kind of guy (most days)… I’m counting on the blessings coming out on top.

Strap yourself in, maybe grab a bag of popcorn, because another famous philosopher of our times with the name Dylan said:

Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

dylan

Let Them Eat Cake… What Are Your Positive Addictions?

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Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette:

Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”

 

As it turns out, Madame Marie likely never spoke those words, but nevertheless… I would so love to eat cake every meal of every day.

My dream world consists of one food group … SUGAR!

Cinnamon Buns and Black Forest Cake for breakfast.

Key Lime Cheesecake and Matrimonial Square for lunch.

Bakewell Tart and Boston Cream Pie for dinner.

Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut Bar as Evening Snack.

The perfect diet for the perfect day.

Fool! Wake up Larry! That’s not the perfect diet for the perfect (long) life.

I know YOU’RE perfect, but I’m not … there’s an addict… a Sugar Monster inside me (maybe I could sell him to Sesame Street).

Cookie monster.jpg

Damn… we live in a world of honeyed riches for the not-so-rich Mr. Average. This is a thick problem for this not-so-thin Monsieur.

How many types of sugary sweetness are there and why am I so magnetically drawn to each of them?

How many sensuously slinky saccharine seductresses sway and dance before my eyes before my mouth must take them in?

If anyone in this world deserves Type 2 diabetes, it’s me.

I tell myself that if I only exercise like crazy 5, 6, 7 times each week and somehow sweat sufficiently to keep my weight below 200 pounds, then I’m immune from the ravages of modern metabolic syndrome.

Yeah, it’s probably a delusion … a childhood imaginary friend that is invisible, especially to me. Addictions hide out in the open like the glasses we’ve lost on the top of our head.

We all have blinders on don’t we? Somewhere in our lives?

There are harmful addictions galore in this world of fallible humanity. Alcohol, drugs, sex, smoking, gambling… sugar.

We always talk about the harmful addictions. We should talk about harmful addictions and the pain they germinate.

I freely confess to my sugar addiction … but you know … I also confess to a slew of beneficial addictions.

Maybe sometimes… no … often… we need to look at our half-full cup and remind ourselves that despite our failures, our weakness, our fallible selves… we also contain a cornucopia of goodness that doesn’t necessitate a daily or weekly visit to a 12-step meeting.

…….. POSITIVE ADDICTIONS ……..

I hold inside myself the nuggets of addictive behaviour that cause me to lace up running shoes and hit the sweaty streets or gym … I make special meals to celebrate others… I share the education I was so generously afforded with others who weren’t given those same opportunities to learn… I study and practice music so that I can share moments of musical joy with my self and with others … and more.

I know these are addictions because I feel the edgy withdrawal effects when they’re absent from my life.

I feel like a lesser being when a week passes and I haven’t felt my heart rate hit 150. I sense a loss in the world if a family member’s birthday goes by and I haven’t taken the opportunity to carry a candle-laden cake to place in front of them and share in the joy of their life’s passage. Positive addictions.

When we offer our time or energy to anything that makes a day better for ourselves or another, we’ve succeeded.

We’re all boats out on a foggy night … sometimes the best we can do is shine a flashlight on the brilliant parts of ourselves that reflect that light and allow the darkness to remain in the shadows.

My tummy is rumbling … all this optimistic thinking is making me think of … oh yeah … CAKE!!!!

Positive addiction

Letters Of Hope From Mom and Bill Gates

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IMG_0394.JPG

My young playful Mom

I got a bunch of letters from my Mom the other day.

There were, and still are, hours of wonderful reading and digesting.

The artistically sculpted handwriting that wove the stories of my family’s daily goings-on wasn’t a genetic trait passed on to me as it was to my two sisters … I find my words sinking into a steadily deteriorating scribble that’s readable, but just.

Did I mention that my Mom died more than 45 years ago?

Obviously, the letters that I’m talking about weren’t written yesterday. They’re nestled in a box of archived family photos and memorabilia I’ve held onto. A good deal of it has also been passed to me by others, my siblings, aunts and uncles and distant cousins.

My eyes glaze a tiny bit as I hum Jim Croce’s Photographs and Memories.

My night owl Mom would write late at night when she was most awake, the house dark and silent. Sitting at the dining room table, smoking her homemade, unfiltered cigarettes, her words and thoughts glided onto the pages. Sometimes 3, 4, even 10 pages long.

Most of the letters were written in the 1960’s and early 1970’s to my older brother Robert who had moved west to Edmonton for university. These were the years where my siblings and myself were at our most volatile and malleable, the times when most of our life’s major decisions were being formulated and dreamed.

Lots of talk about school exams and boyfriends/girlfriends/weddings, painful ear infections, paper routes and bitter snowstorms.

 

IMG_0410.jpg

The “small” stories held in the probably more than 200 pages of handwritten love aren’t the ones that capture newspaper headlines: there are no abbreviations like LOL or UR or WTF, the script lines are written on clean white unlined paper, mostly 8.5 x 11 inch.

The grammar and spelling are excellent (although I would call her out for using real instead of the adverb really!) given they were written by a farm girl from tiny Hillsburg, Ontario, born in an era when education for girls was far less important than striving for their MRS.

Mom’s words were mostly fun and newsy and very optimistic. Nostalgic and warm. Written close to the end of her years – she sadly died before she reached 61 years old – they were filled with the plans and stories that show a woman who found the best in each person and the immense love for the family that she had surrounded herself with.

Yes, my Mom was dedicated to her family … my Mom was optimistic despite any troubles that no doubt existed. Everyone has troubles.

Sure, Mom would have had problems (tell me one woman with 5 kids that doesn’t have troubles) … Bill Gates has troubles too I bet. Yes, THAT Bill Gates.

Bill Gates sees troubles in the world.

I got a bunch of words in a letter from Bill and Melinda Gates the other day.

Gates Letter 2018

Their letter outlines a myriad collection of problems that exist in the world, “we’re highlighting nine more things that have surprised us along this journey. Some worry us. Others inspire us. All of them are prodding us to action. We hope they do the same for you, because that’s how the world gets better.”

I wasn’t a great fan of Bill Gates when he ran Microsoft.

He always seemed to be attempting to take over the technology of the world with inferior products. He shoved and elbowed to crush whatever competition was waiting and was willing to use all the levers at his devious disposal to eliminate them.

But since leaving as head of Microsoft 10 years ago, Gates and his partner Melinda have found a softer side, or at the very least, a very positive use for his drive to dominate.

The Gates Foundation is a huge philanthropic force dedicated to improving the lives of everyone using technology and intelligent processes. Diseases such as AIDS and malaria have been major focuses, as has the education of young women.

Gates is the antithesis of Trump… Gates, like me, believes that improving the lot of the poorest, sickest, and most destitute the world over improves all our lives. He uses real data, real news, real hope, to combat the fake and the transparently false.

Reading my Mom’s and Gates’ letters this week has left a warm glow inside me.

I’m always on the lookout for mentors, near and far… those who inspire with their deeds.

This week has brought me the gift of a positive glow from that most intimate source… my mother, speaking to me from the past… and an external source of wisdom and hope, Bill Gates, holding confidence and promise in the future.

Optimism … I watched Kacey Musgraves singing at the Grammy Awards this week… her simply optimistic song, Rainbow, “ … there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head.”

Or, as Bill and Melinda Gates write: “The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic.”

optimism.jpg

 

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

K-Tel vs Amazon… and the Winner Is?

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Capitol record club

Those were the days my friend…

OK, dammit I’ll admit it… it really gets under my skin when people talk about the “good old days”.

Good old days… Did you mean those good old days of cruel slavery and gruesome world wars and where women were unable to vote or own property?

Hmmmm… are we talking about the REAL “Good Old Days” or “New Age Trump days”?

Good old days was one of my Dad’s favourite expressions and I often hear it today when I’m in the company of the elder generation (notice how I’m carefully avoiding placing myself in this category… you know… VANITY is my name!)

I’ll know I’ve crossed the Rubicon to advanced Seniordom (SeniorDUMB?) when I believe that ALL things in the world were better when I was younger. Canned peas definitely were NOT a positive feature of my childhood dinners.

C’mon, every day is fresh and new and has the wide-eyed capacity to be a good day, or sometimes bad. Let’s face it, there are days of exhausting trial.

There are so many exceptionally positive things about the world of 2018 compared to, say, the world of 1918 (speaking of world wars).

Under the category of not better but different makes me search through my inner hard drive for some stuff that was popular in my young days and is now defunct, non-visible, like, gone… gone… gone.

I cast back in my memory banks wondering whatever happened to Capital Record Company, or K-Tel, or Book-of-the-Month Club.

In my 1960’s and ’70’s early youth, I loved all of those companies.

What a delight I’d feel, almost like a Christmas morn awakening, when I opened a cardboard mailing package containing a monthly LP record by Three Dog Night (“One is the loneliest number….), or peeling the plastic covering off K-Tel’s 40 Greatest Beach Hits of 1969… or a brand new shiny hardcover edition of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

three dog night

It felt like the planet had delivered the Science-Fiction model of humanity that Montreal’s Expo 67 promised visitors with its motto, Man and His World.

The Jetson’s maybe wasn’t just a cartoon. Good dog Astro!

Further, whatever happened to daily milk truck delivery or eggs, or potato chip or soda pop or orange juice deliveries, all brought by separate delivery truck?

It was crazy the stuff that could be trundled up my street by some middle-aged family man (or woman, we had an egg lady) in an old delivery truck. We never locked our house so they could deposit their goods inside the door.

These were iconic entities of my youth along with the one-armed Fuller Brush man who’d regularly appear at our door, or the knife-sharpening guy who walked up the road ringing a handbell and dragging a pull cart.

But best of all for us kids, was the Good Humor Truck, more affectionately known as the YUMMY MAN.

Yup, the ice cream truck with its sing-song jingle and its heavy insulated doors that hid the delectable Strawberry Shortcakes and Buried Treasures and Tiger Stripes.

He’d open one of those doors and big wafts of ice-cold clouds poured out while he reached in for our precious jewels of creamy sweetness.

good humor truck.jpg

Over the decades we lost these services as bigger and bigger grocery chains took control over the shopping experience with lower and lower prices and the convenience factor that put most of our daily needs and wants in one spot.

Gone was the need to traipse from the baker to the butcher to the dairy, the megastore had them all.

Truck-to-door delivery service wilted away like autumn frostbitten flowers… but much like clothing fashion that circles back around… the Phoenix has arisen from the ashes and we now have…

… a return to the past with home delivery of millions of products by the likes of Amazon and Best Buy and grocery stores and hundreds of others online.

The good old days we hear about have returned with steroidal gusto…

The crazy busy, the telecommuters and agoraphobics of the world have found a sweet spot where they really never need leave their safe houses.

Want to watch a movie tonight? Easy-peasy, just order from Apple or Netflix. You can lie back in bed, wireless iPad linked in, while the pizza boy delivers your intermission snack right to your comfy bedside.

The world will once again come to you with low prices and free delivery. Eggs and milk and books and music (oh, did someone mention PORN?) are available in a flash and a click.

Soon enough the Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers and Millennials will be looking back in their rearview memory mirrors and reflecting fondly on their good old days just as every generation before has done.

It’s the Circle of Life where everything old becomes new again and the world wakes up from its humble slumber and forges off to work newly dressed in a shiny tech-happy wrapper.

From time to time in my nostalgic moments, I find myself wondering why songwriters and musicians don’t make music of the quality they used to, you know, like in the good old days?

But know what? I’m kidding myself even there. I’ve paused at the edge of the Rubicon, not quite ready to make the crossing.

In my youth there was only one Three Dog Night.

Today, there are dozens, hundreds… thousands of musicians and songwriters as good as or better than Three Dog Night…

Yes, these ARE the good days my friend…

Good-old-days

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