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Ransom Note To Your Inner Discovery

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writer frustrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone can enter.

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

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

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

Here, let me give you some context.

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

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

Easy peasy, right?

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

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

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

Stephen King and JK Rowling

A Bonanza of Creative Brain-Force

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

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

…………..

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second greatest lesson was more of an internal discovery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How well do you know yourself?

How do you unearth your internal answers?

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

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Ship of (Writer’s) Foolishness

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

Stephen King – The Stand

Stephen King writing

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

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

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

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

268 blog posts and counting.

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

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

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

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

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

Money.

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

Ego.

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

Beauty.

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

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

Habit.

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

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

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

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

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Meaning and Purpose.

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

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

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

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

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

Words and Writing are a miracle of humanity.

Writing is solitary but the sharing of words is universal.

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

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

Stephen King – Shawshank Redemption

What is Your Dream Job?

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obama-laughing-caricature

Show up. 

Dive in. 

Persevere. 

Sometimes you’ll win.  Sometimes you’ll lose. 

Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. 

But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire.

Barack Obama’s Farewell Speech January 10, 2017.

……………………

To write a speech is to love words.

I hear words. I see words. I love words. Sometimes even swear words.

Laid back, eyes lightly closed, I inhale the seductive, burning orange warmth of the sun passing through the silky curtains that are my eyelids, highlighting the tiny capillaries that snake hither and thither, tracing paths and journeys both backwards and forwards.

Opening my eyes, I absorb the blue bowl of the sky curving over, a wide open ocean that flows tones and scents and beckons me to choose a direction, any direction … life is improvisation.

Life is an artistic improvisation. Why can’t our jobs, our vocations, be a part of that art?

We day dream, we night dream. We envision ourselves as Walter Mitty, taking on bold adventures that stir our blood.

We plan and map a direction, but when a shifting tide sends a new purpose or invigorating question to be answered, why wouldn’t we choose the flexible path?

The Yellow Brick Road sends forks our way constantly when we keep our YES open. New directions and exciting visions appear over the horizon regularly like the perennially dawning day.

I grew up with career dreams, some that became satisfying reality, some that lingered and then… evaporated away like whistling steam rising from a kettle.

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I once dreamed of becoming a speechwriter.

Words.

Words can elevate to music. A turn of phrase… a pause… served with a side dish of smile.

Words spoken by Barack Obama, or Winston Churchill, or Meryl Streep or Martin Luther King Jr. have a rhythm and a harmony that seeps inside us, leaving a lingering indentation in our soulful minds of beauty and strength and inspiration. There’s a hit parade of those speechifying moments that play inside our heads….

I have a dream…”

“… ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. “

“…if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

“Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

meryl

Symphonies of spoken words.

Donald Trump, despite being wonderful and fabulous and terrific, will never be a music man, a crafter of words that encourage and elevate… only humiliate. More weeds than flowers.

He’ll never give an individual other than himself a wondrous sense of personal hope or pride. Trump vomits children’s fairy tales and tart bubblegum phrases, filling the air with smoggy disharmonic tones.

OK. Enough of the Donald.

Listening to the moving oration of Barack Obama the other night simultaneously resurrected and then laid to rest a childlike dream in my head.

I’ve long held this thin dream of becoming a speechwriter, a winsome wordsmith that polishes those gifted with influence and charisma. For me, mixing a recipe of words into a delicious repast is as fun as making sandcastles on a warm beach, Beach Boys’ harmonies and the salty scent of french fries in the air.

I love the music of words where a phrase or metaphor touches us inside, finding a responsive or reactionary soft spot that carries huge meaning and import. Each of us has our own lifetime of experience, a personal filter that makes us susceptible to universal notions.

Dream jobs exist inside all of us.

In addition to my speechwriting dream, I found one in a bartender’s apron these past two years. I’m on the lookout for more.

Actor, winemaker, undertaker, pilot, baker, bed & breakfast owner, chocolatier, doggie daycare owner, photographer, fashion designer, rock star, interior designer, screenwriter, sushi chef.  There are 4 or 5 fantasies in that list for me.

The list goes on and on and fits each of us in a different way.

The world will take an abrupt and profound turnabout this coming week as the Obama family lifts away in a helicopter to pursue their own future dreams. Feathers in the wind.

As the whirlybird rises, my fragile speechwriting dream will haul up stakes and be thrust into a dark closet like an unloved, unused treadmill or bowling ball. That’s OK.

It’s OK because there is no shortage of dreams and dream jobs that can invigorate and enthrall any of us.

Dreams… like pi, money, love, time, and human imagination are infinite … 

Oh, and Zombie movies, I’m pretty sure they’re infinite too.

zombie

Battle or Love Affair? Book vs. E-Reader

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Minion brawl

Let the bloody, eviscerating brawl begin…

  • Sydney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin
  • Ironman vs. Tough Mudder
  • Ali vs. Frazier
  • Tiger Cats vs. Argonauts
  • Hillary vs. Donald

I sit quietly gazing to where the evening’s flaming nectarine-pink sky meets the watery horizon in an arrow straight line, quietly pondering on the full spectrum of humanity’s aggressive battles.

Our world has suffered greatly and soared magnificently all because of the struggle of competition. Weeds and flowers entangled in Olympic rings.

My poor little heart was blown apart and scattered in pieces when, as a lovestruck teenager another A-hole… er… young man… outmuscled my charms and stole back his pretty ex-girlfriend whom I was head-over-men’s-70’s-style-high-heels  in love with.

There were no sun, stars, or moon tracing their arc across my miserable sky for many weeks…  (Just for the record she returned a few months later begging me, pleading… okay, mildly requesting… for a second chance when his allure faded quickly).

Competition. Suffered and soared.

Competition exists in countless areas of life,  Italian Pasta vs. Indian Curry or… Honda vs. Ford…

… or… traditional book vs. e-reader.

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I’ve lived these decades of my life with a reverence for books… those solid, stolid and satisfying reads and beautiful works of visual art arranged upright like beautiful ceremonial soldiers at attention in a ceiling-high dark-toned oak bookshelf.

I’ve fondled and nuzzled a book while warm sunshine caressed my toes stretching towards the ocean.

I’ve absorbed the lover’s touch, the alluring scent, the romantic feeling of flight at turning another enticing page, drawing me ahead with great expectation.

I’ve inhaled the words tracing mysterious laneways and winding paths across the pages; road trips where some incredibly talented author – a person just like you or me – has insidiously seized the inside of my brain and taken me intellectually and emotionally on a journey of scope and intensity well beyond my imaginings.

Who amongst us hasn’t remembered the passage of a memorable and meaningful story we read during the days of our younger selves?

read in train station

While backpacking my way across Europe in my early 20’s I sat in cavernous Munich hauptbahnhofs and Parisian gares patiently passing hours waiting for trains. Laid out against my backpack, I sipped strong espresso and read the at-the-time inspiring story of Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED before hopping in and out of train compartments and book chapters.

Then came the intensely human Leon Uris books (EXODUS, TRINITY) of ordinary people who grew into powerful figures within the founding of modern day Israel and struggling Northern Ireland.

The paperbacks I toted from Belgium to Denmark to Greece became grimy, worn, torn and tattered but the spellbinding lure of their stories remained.

And yet, despite all of this sensory wonder, this tactile magic, I have to admit that I’ve been largely wooed and converted from the traditional centuries-old hardcover or paper-bound book over to the slick, compact e-reader side of the tracks.

It’s just too damned easy.

I can carry a weighty bookshelf of reading material in the palm of my man-hand.

I can travel to any corner of the world, to the peak of Machu Picchu or the tombs of the Terra Cotta Warriors and in a moment, sit and become absorbed by a huge compendium of writing.

And even more magical is that, in my moments of fleeting ADHD need for change, a totally different reading experience is divinely available within a few seconds of Wi-Fi connection and a few dollars.

A new book, a new literary feast arrives at my table.

Woman reading an e-book on a tube train in London

Harry Potter may have his magic wand, but my e-reader (KOBO) contains a powerful wizardly set of its own potions.

The sorcery of the e-reader gives me a lighted page to read in a blackened room, a larger font for reading when my reading glasses have gone AWOL, a built-in dictionary that lifts me over the difficult word fences. These are truly powerful and alluring forces…

And yet…

Although I love the convenience of the electronic book, I reconnected over the last few weeks with my past. I found a comfortable homey place within myself as I became absorbed in a paperbound book (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) recently left behind by visiting friends.

The tender warm feel, the weight, the light sandpaper texture of paper against my skin was a sensual experience only heightened by the elegantly beautiful weaving of words within its pages. Each fulfilling sentence seemed to breathe deeply like a bursting popcorn kernel coming to life.

It was a combination of two souls – the physical, the emotional – where elation meets that relaxed sensation of returning home after a lengthy journey.

The same words read in an electronic reader would have likely seemed dimensionless, flat like a glass of Coke left on the kitchen counter overnight.

This is a brawl where no knockout punch will deliver satisfaction.

Any book, whether read from a heavy hardcover, a flimsy paperback, or a Kindle or KOBO, that delivers a sense of meaning to us – joy or heartbreak, entertainment or education – is a champion.

I won’t try to pick a winner in the “reading wars”.

There will be no Book’ish Bloodshed here today.

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PS. Where do YOU stand in the physical book versus e-reader universe?

 

 

 

 

200 x Scary … Would You Leap With Me?

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My friend Bill was an airline pilot. When asked to describe his job, he always answers, “hours of boredom punctuated by moments of terror.” (Hmmm… he must order the Economy Class lunch).

In my life, the same can sometimes be said for stock market investing (taking just the last month for example) AND writing blog posts …

NUMBERS.

I’m a Numbers Guy. Investing Numbers. Date Numbers. Lab Result Numbers. Age Numbers. Weight Numbers. Cooking Numbers. Spanish Numbers …

Numbers are solid and real and maybe they are the counterbalance to my desires to be creative and off in my luminous dream world.

Numbers are unambiguous and tangible. Numbers don’t melt away like fluffy snowflakes and disappear while you’re sleeping (unless, once again, you’ve been investing in the stock market this past month!).

Today my favourite number is 200. Writing one blog post each week (more or less) for 3 and a half years has brought me to my 200th post.

I confess. I lied above about those things boring and terror-filled. Writing blog posts isn’t boring. Not at all. Terror?  Not really.

Fearful nervousness? Sure!

200

200.

200 blog posts. 200,000 words, more or less. The equivalent of two hardbound books.

200 creative opportunities.

200 internal investigations within my labyrinthine mind.

In June 2012 I began pecking out words and ideas, trying to capture the essence of my world … what it was like to be a man breathing feminine-scented air.

An XY living in an XX milieu: in my lab work, at gyms, at theatres.

I don’t tend to hang out where most men in this world hang out. I prefer music and cooking to auto repair and hunting.

As blogging weeks and months and years slipped along, a personal evolution occurred and I began writing about whatever itch felt the need to be scratched. I’ve been flying off, a bird on the wing, on tangents all over the map ever since.

I didn’t anticipate what writing would mean to me in terms of self-examination. I’ve confronted the sunshine and the darkness inside.  With each post I cobble together I discover a little bit more about myself, and my own personal beliefs, not the ones necessarily sold to me in the noisy marketplace of society expectation.

It’s not always pretty. Looking closely at yourself can be scary. I’ve unearthed many beautiful Valentine’s bouquets within, but also insecurities and worries that swim along the ocean bottom.

And further still I realized that when you share your inner world with the outside world it’s even scarier. I know that I’m different from you but I’m also the same as you.

Two hundred posts back I didn’t know where I was heading in writing a blog and that kind of sums me up.

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My way in life is to push myself, taking action and forging forwards without always knowing the precise direction I’m headed.

Life is like that.

You can stay static and unmoving, sphinx-like – until you know exactly what you want or where you’re headed. But for me, this would mean, playing a Christmas Grinch statue in the cold, never moving toward anything.

Total inertia and sloth-like existence. Fine for a few hours but not a lifetime.

Alternately, I can take a blurry, almost inebriated step forward, then another, then another… I like the sensation of movement, ripples on the lake in the rising sun, and eventually I know I’ll discover if I’m heading in a direction I like.

If I don’t like what I see, I re-assess and do an about face. Either way, I’m at ease because I’m doing something. And for me, doing something is ALWAYS better than doing NOTHING.

Writing blog posts was a scary thing to begin. I wanted badly to say things that were more often kept silent in my head and maybe inside yours too.

Not hurtful things, I hate hurting people. But truthful thoughts, scratching and clawing beneath the surface things. Funny things, sexy things, sad things.

And I’ve confirmed to myself that most of us are entwined in our own existence.  Most things we believe others say and think about us just don’t happen because we’re all too busy drowning in our own inner voices to be worried about anyone else’s.

That’s what I’m doing in this 200th blog post… drowning in my own inner voices. Narcissus looking at my own reflection.

But if you can shussssshhhh your inner voice for just a minute let me tell you something.

LEAP.

When we jump from a height, in that cinematic slow-motion moment while we free-fall we think, “Oh no!” in 100% of the cases.

Faecal creep takes hold for a second before we squeeze the blessed sphincter shut.

Then we hit the cold water and remember that we learned how to swim when we were little. The instinct to survive and thrive is there.

LEAP into the void. It’s only a void for a moment.

OK, not every opportunity that comes along. But enough to remind yourself that you’re breathing – participating – and not just a spectator or a reporter of a life.

LEAP into something that scares you, yet exhilarates you.

Write a blog post. Backpack through Thailand. Treat the sick who need you on St. Lawrence Island in the Arctic. Teach a yoga or fitness class. Eat a guinea pig. Organize a refugee support group. Start a new career. Sing acapella.

LEAP into the mosh pit of life and inhale a reassuring breath when the crowd sets you down gently.

Almost guaranteed you’ll get a smile that will waft you gently to the heavenly gates or carry you compassionately through the burning rings of hell … depending on what you did with the rest of your life. I can only help you so far.

200 Smiles.

See. There’s another NUMBER from this NUMBER’S guy.

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Writing For Myself …

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Matt Damon portrays an astronaut who faces seemingly insurmountable odds as he tries to find a way to subsist on a hostile planet.

I saw the movie THE MARTIAN the other night.

The popcorn –meh – was only one thumb up but the film was two thumbs interstellar high.

I felt a whack of deja vu as Matt Damon, sitting solitary, totally alone on a strange planet, growing potatoes in his own shit … played Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball on a deserted island.

Blog writing is me playing Matt Damon, sitting here on Mars talking to myself … and lucky you, you get to listen in on my inner workings…

Writing affords me the opportunity to talk to myself and decide what I’m all about … I’m growing potatoes in my own shit just sitting here and looking inside myself and the world around me.

It’s like flipping a sock inside out and getting to see my own insides, smelly yes, but a part of me.

get lost

And here’s an example of something I’ve learned:

Two years ago I thought that “sure”, I might have a novel in me, so I took on the challenge of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) … an online 30 day challenge with the goal of writing a complete novel, start to finish.

NaNoWriMo was a fantastic exercise and I managed to eke out an astounding 50,000 words in a novel format in 30 days … OK, I’ll admit the end result was pretty crappy … with a few minor bursts of brilliance (if I do say so myself).

But more importantly I learned – or confirmed – something abut myself that carries over to other areas of my life .

My little life “AHA” was that I’m not one to sit for long long periods of time writing lengthy chapters. I love the idea. But that’s not good enough. NOPE.

My restless, ADHD-type personality just isn’t suited to the full-length novel form. Margaret Atwood or Stephen King ain’t in me.

But writing blog posts is the perfect pastime for those of us who enjoy writing but suffer from short attention spans.

I love writing about 1,000 words each week. Since I’ve been doing this for 3 and a half years now and still enjoy it, I think blogging and I are perfect companions.

A reasonable writing output for most serious writers is probably something along the lines of 1,000 words in a 4 hour sitting.

For me, it works out more like 200-250 words per sitting spread out in 4 one -hour bursts interspersed throughout the week.

Each post sends me down the gritty foxhole that is my mind to explore and dig through my memories and experiences and imagination.

There are countless things I find inside my head that I would have never dreamed existed and yet, by dint of some magical mystery tour, they arise and percolate to the surface like oil crude bubbling through the ground for Jed in the Beverly Hillbillies.

tightrope walker

Another lesson I’ve learned?

When pecking out a blog post:

All that matters are the words you write. Nothing else.

When you write your inner thoughts, it doesn’t matter (and it shouldn’t) what others are going to think about it.

When I write, I have to stop worrying about whether or not people are going to like my story, whether or not someone’s going to read it, whether or not they’ll care. I don’t want to hurt anyone in my writing but beyond that, the horizon is clear.

And it’s not about saying something that no one else ever thought of saying, but about saying it in my own voice. And that’s something we all have.

Writing is about finding the courage to write. Courage to say things that hopefully are meaningful but that we don’t often say out loud.

Fear is this construct usually made up inside our heads. A tiny bit of respectful fear is good … we don’t want to jump into the Niagara River above the Falls. That is a good fear.

But most fear is irrational. It’s our mind, our head, playing crappy nasty games with us trying to tell us there are gruesome monsters in the closet.

And courage is all about realizing that some things are more important than fear.

Matt Damon was all alone on a hostile planet with no one to talk to … no one to guide him. But he turned the bastard voices off, or at least down, and took one step forward and then another step and refused to say die.

We all contain the seeds of courage and the inner strength to turn down the irrational voices – living in the moment – and just live for ourselves.

It’s a tiny step, but writing these words to you is me discovering and nurturing a small seed of courage.

courage1

Songwriting 101 for Everyone …

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Michelangelo

I took aim with my pellet rifle and squeezed the trigger, killing the first and last sparrow ever in my life.

I stood over it – lifeless, still in the grass – tears welling in my 10 year-old eyes taking in what I had done. 

And years later, I realize that this is the kind of story or song that is universal and needs to be shared; we’ve all pulled the metaphorical trigger before realizing what the end result will mean to us.

cute-sparrows

Have you ever wanted to write your own song?

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You should. Let me explain…

Yup, it took me a lot of years to get to this stage … but finally I can write a song.

And the secret? It’s pretty easy.

Except when it’s hard.

Life is a long, long lesson. Often a long, hard lesson. Lessons filled with puking and rejection, then elation and wonderment. Lessons of killing and discovering the consequences afterwards.

Our songs … our stories are writing themselves based on the lessons we learn everyday.

Renaissance artist Michelangelo claimed that his job in sculpting was to free the human form hidden inside the block of stone.

Songs and stories are rocks in the same way.

We live in an endless ocean of stories waiting to be told in verse – spoken or sung. We humans crave stories that help us to understand ourselves better.

The tough part often is to find a tiny corner of the rock and zeroing in on it to make it our own special story.

We all know how to write. We’ve all read nursery rhymes. You learned how to rhyme words as a pre-schooler.

And when we’ve been drinking, we all know a limerick or two:

There once was a man from Nantucket
Whose *&^% was so long he could suck it.    
He said with a grin    
As he wiped off his chin,
If my ear was a hole I could *&*%  it.””
churchsign-nantucket

OH MY….

 

And so, I believe we all have a song or two or twenty inside us, and the ability to share that song.

OK, maybe not an actual song, but a message so personal, so individual, that it can only be told by us.

I was frustrated for years.

I desperately wanted to write songs that would have a universal message, a meaning so great that it couldn’t be denied. I wanted Shakespeare and Bach and Van Gogh to come flowing out of me so I would know that I had found something important, something visceral.

Agonizingly, I searched for the important message, the big story I needed to discover before I could finally begin to write meaningful songs.

Then one day I made the big discovery.

What I needed wasn’t binoculars or a telescope; for most of us, our life’s meaning – down deep – isn’t in the major political stories, or the stunning atrocities in Africa, or the OMG! collapse in oil prices. We feel these stories, but the impact lessens with us over time. The anguish I feel inside over killing a small sparrow stays with me for life.

Our lives – our personal meanings – are lived in the miniature.

The big discovery? What I needed was a magnifying glass, a microscope.

Years back I laughed at the audacity of Paul McCartney to write and sing nonsense songs. An example? :

You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn’t so, oh no
Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
What’s wrong with that?

Silly? Yup … Simple? Yup …

I hate to say it, but it’s profound in its silly simpleness.

John and Paul

Our lives are defined by the tiny details; our loves, our simple joys, our jobs, our heartbreaks in loss, the stunning sunsets, monstrous snowfalls, the small stuff we sweat about. We feel less alone in the world when we know others see and feel the small things the same as we do.

Now when I sit down to write blogs or songs, I’m not looking at the world as one big globe… a huge amorphous forest. My world is made of 7 billion individuals, each carving a daily existence in the best way they can with what they were handed at birth… a labyrinth of trees trying to survive against the ill winds and enjoy the warm tropical breezes.

My life …. your life … has wonder and sorrow and delight and tragedy and these are what we should carve into stories and songs – Michelangelo’s block of rock is waiting for our inner saga and wisdom, simple or complex, to be uncovered.

This week I’m writing a song about a descendant that migrated to Canada from Ireland leaving his family behind reluctantly (and forever, as it turned out) … next week I plan to begin another song using volcanoes as a metaphor for one person’s buried anger and resentment.

These are small personal vignettes that I hope you might see a bit of yourself reflected in.

Think about it, OK? Writing your story or your song will help you see yourself in a new way. Uncovering something unknown within yourself might come as a surprise. It happens to me almost every week. Often, this is what keeps me writing a weekly blog post; I’m learning lessons about myself.

A little trick to help you? Think of a tiny occurrence in your life that affected you deeply. A beloved pet that disappeared in the dark night. A music recital where you found your confidence. A first kiss in 7th Grade.

Pick a favourite song you love and write a few lines about that small occurrence to match the song’s melody.

Everything you do begins with a small first step. Don’t stop. Write another line, another verse.

Start carving your stone today. It – whatever IT is – is inside you waiting to escape .

words escape

Get Paid. Get Laid. Lose Weight.

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Larry SuperHero

I’ve got to be very careful because sometimes I feel like I am a SuperHero.

It suggests power that needs to be respected and restrained.

………………….

You know how when you become a Mom or a Dad and you lose your identity? It’s like you’ve had your name de-listed from the human registry and now you’re just “Erin’s Dad”. Wherever you go in your world, people refer to you by your relationship to your children.

After blogging here for close to 2 and a half years, my given name Lawrence aka Larry is transforming into Man on the Fringe or That Blog Guy, or as my friend Pam mocks me, Man with the Frills.

When I started out in the blogosphere, I had maybe 5 or 10 visits to my site daily. Bit by bit, the numbers crept up and by the end of last year, my daily average was about 25 visits.

Now it’s usually in the range of 60-100 each day which is tiny by blog-world standards, but for me, it’s pretty significant. I really appreciate you and everyone else who sets aside a few minutes to read my stuff.

I myself pass by acres of articles and e-mails every day, so I know that it isn’t easy to attract eyeballs in today’s multimedia, ultra-connected world.  Dreaming up titles, searching for evocative photos, and using colourful language are eyeball-eliciting elements that I put to work.

My first blog post ...

My first blog post attempt …

By now, most of the people I encounter who remotely know me, are aware that I write a blog.

Some of those same people I’ve mentioned in my posts because they’ve impressed me with their extraordinary skills or talents in areas such as creativity or persistence, or their ability to inspire me to invest wisely or to stretch and keep fit. I’m always on the lookout for everyday SuperHeroes.

Anyway, I’m just beginning to stumble onto the realization that I have a power.

It’s the power of the pen, er, keyboard. Frankly, I’m not convinced that it’s truly mightier than the sword ’cause I know I don’t want to encounter some swarthy tattoo-laden hood with a sword in a dark alley and my only weapons are some hard-edged words.

That’s just scary. I don’t want to see my smelly bowels unravelled like a lengthy snake on the pavement in front of me.

However, I know from life’s experience that words do have an impact on people and their lives.

I recognize that I’m connecting with you occasionally when I run into you on the street or we’re chatting on the phone and you say, “Hey Larry, I read your post about “Paid Sex Workers for the Handicapped (this is gonna be a future post!) … it made me think of my poor friend Peter trapped in a wheelchair who’s yearning for an intimate encounter. By the way, I think you should write a blog about …insert your pet peeve or best-loved idea here… “.

I think this is the finest compliment you can give a blogger. It’s a beautiful gift that you’ve wrapped up and given to me. I honestly glow when this happens.

Blogger-gift

It tells me  you believe my words are worthy and strong enough that I’ll put my superpower to use and tell a story or represent something that you feel passionate about.

I have to be honest here. Most times I don’t use your main idea because it just doesn’t speak to me somehow. But I always try to find some hook in what you’ve said to build a story that works for me. And, of course, after writing 130+ blog posts on a weekly basis, finding a story idea that interests me can sometimes be a challenge.

I’ve been told that if you want to build an audience, powerful Blogging SuperHeroes expound on one of these three sure-fire topics that seduce and charm readersThere are a lot of approaches I can use to build a story that revolve around these 3 gems:

GET PAID, GET LAID, LOSE WEIGHT

  • GET PAID: A few of my blog posts have figured on how I go about investing my modest savings.

I have a keen interest in investing money and attempting to build a mini-fortune. Because I’ve not been hugely career driven – translate this to say I’ve never earned a huge income – my issues with money have revolved around taking the modest $$ that I have and saving at least 10% (just like The Wealthy Barber told me)… and more importantly, investing the dollars so that I can enjoy the freedom to pursue all of my ADHD interests. I usually spend about an hour each day reading and researching possible investments, normally in the area of high quality companies found on the Toronto or New York exchanges. Tim Hortons and Disney keep my financial wheels spinning … I’ll hit on this topic again, trust me!

  • GET LAID: I began this blog site with the notion that I would write about the similarities and differences between men and women. I’ve spent an entire career surrounded by a moat filled with bright women. I figure I have an insight or two that Joe Blow the Plumber lacks – of course, plumbing is no longer a man’s domain any more than cooking dinner is a woman’s.

The whole veiled background that bobs to the surface over and over when peering at issues about men and women comes down to getting laid. I usually just refer to it as plain old sex, but the underlay, the true bottom line, is where, when and how we end up between the sheets.

Human nature is deeply … I said deeply … imbedded in the intimate connection between our brains and our naughty bits. We hear about it in our political, entertainment and sports stories every single day.

And so you may have noted that I hit on this area with some frequency in my writing. Well, you can probably lay a few dollars down on the Vegas gambling tables that I’ll be expounding about this again sometime in the near future. I’m a man, and gender laws have proven that we males think about this stuff multiple times each minute. Who am I to break the law?

  • LOSE WEIGHT: Hmmm, just how many of us are totally contented when we step on the weigh scales? If you always have a serene and satisfied smile on your face during your regular weigh-ins, please feel free to ditch out here and move onto someone else’s post, I have nothing further to say to you.

I’ve lived my life on the knife’s edge of muffin tops (do we call men’s swollen bellies muffin tops?). The struggle of enjoying the sweet bliss of delicious, mouthwatering foods while keeping their caloric tonnage from remaining with me on a longer-term basis is as perennial as the moon waxing and waning, the sun rising and setting, Lindsay Lohan entering and exiting rehab.

I admit I am a weak person when food is within my grasp. I love See-Food. So, by default, my writings in this area have largely revolved around exercise. Self-control and initiative for me are mostly limited to battling calorie excess with running and swimming and biking and TRX’ing and weight-training and yoga’ing and tennis’ing and boot camping and spinning …….

Most days each week, you’ll find me involved in some sort of physical combat against calorie creep and so I write about this theme while inhaling my 3,000 calorie snacks.

……………………………..

 

By now, you can see I’m just an average everyday blogging SuperHero.

Thanks for helping me keep my cape pressed and intact by telling me that, like Sally Field on Oscar night, you sometimes like me and what I have to say.

I’m gonna try to keep this knowledge from hungrily consuming my humility, once I figure how to unleash my word power to get out of this damned phone booth.

Gibraltar -- Stuck in a British Phone Booth

Them’s Writin’ Words … A Heartbeat of Harry Hero Worship

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Photo of Harry CHAPIN

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STATEMENT: Writing blog posts is easy.

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Well, not easy… no, not easy at all. I’ve written 130 posts in the past 2 and a half years, and not one was a simple, mindless endeavour, even if you think my compositions about baginas or castration are mindless!

Dogy Balls

I only write about matters that interest me – if the subject doesn’t catch my intrigue, the words will NOT come –  while at the same time, quarrying a nugget or two in the slag pile that somehow, hopefully, will be meaningful to you in your life.

My ego doesn’t fare well if no one reads a word I publish … yes, I NEED YOU!

But when I compare the mental effort and time it takes to write a blog entry versus piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that makes up a musical song, it just seems easy.

Writing blogs and composing music are comparable to the striking differences in playing guitar and playing piano. If you’ve tried both, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

Writing a blog post – like playing guitar – is a singular, one-tracked effort. Putting one word after another is a focussed undertaking where your total concentration goes into moving forward in a single direction.

It’s kind of like becoming a killer kisser. Your entirety is devoted to the touch, taste … all of those sensations that cook up into making one other set of soft, sweet lips happy and well looked after.

But writing a song? Whole different breed of animal.

Songsmithing is a complex of musical melody, harmony and lyrics which is more like combining the left and right hand in piano. Songwriting is a boudoir threesome (like I would know!); there are parts running off in all directions. It’s pleasurable for sure (again, like I would know!), but it makes your head spin.

Sorry Ladies, but I've just GOTTA finish writing this song ... the BIG MALE FAIL

“Sorry Ladies, but I’ve just GOTTA finish writing this song” … the BIG MALE FAIL!

 

There are two independent thoughts running side-by-side inside your head and fingertips. Through exhaustive practice, you learn to separate them sufficiently to then weave them back together in a cohesive whole that makes a deliciously fragrant sonata.

If I want to write songs that are meaningful to me and – just like my blog writing – hopefully contain a snippet of something that has meaning for you too, the formulas that commercialized music depend on just don’t work very well.

Which, happily for you, brings me to the point of today’s sermon … avoiding the cliche in songwriting.

Songwriting cliche threatens to swallow us whole in today’s musical marketplace and it drives me crazy sometimes.

Don’t you – maybe even occasionally – ask yourself when listening to a song on the radio, “Who the hell let that DOG out?”. The music, the lyrics are a dog’s breakfast and still it smuggled itself past a recording studio, a bunch of music-studio talking heads, and a radio station programmer. ARGGGGG!

But there are and always have been exceptions.

One of my lifelong songwriting heroes – I have many musical heroes, but probably none as emotionally resonant – has been Harry Chapin.

Harry perished in an auto accident in the late 1970’s while only 39 years old. You might know Harry for his powerfully evocative song: Cats in the Cradle.

But Cats in the Cradle was just a miniscule sample of Harry’s ability. Harry didn’t write or sing cliches and I loved him for it.

Harry was a husband, father, writer, singer, a supporter of social causes, and most impressively, a funny and talented storyteller.

Today, 33 years after his death, I still think about him from time to time – I miss Harry like a treasured friend or brother who left behind a huge hole in my existence in his wake.

Harry had the ability to find a tiny fragment of the joy or sorrow in the life of a common man (woman) and magnify it into an opus that pierced directly into our hearts.

Over and over, Chapin sketched universal human stories in just a few short verses and choruses.

It’s an amazing skill akin to Ernest Hemingway’s famous brief 6-word story:

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn

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A few examples of Harry’s songs and the stories they told:

  • Mr. Tanner, the drycleaner, who tried opera-style singing at Carnegie Hall, just once, and was cruelly rejected by the reviewers.
  • the lonely midnight watchman in A Better Place to Be who desperately craves the love of someone, and discovers that he isn’t alone in his struggle to be held dear by others.
  • the former lovers who accidentally meet in a Taxi, and sadly realize that their young dreams weren’t fulfilled in the way they hoped.
  • the aging FM disc jockey who’s life lies in crumbles from chasing fame and fortune in WOLD
  • the truck driver rushing to get home to his “warm-breathed lover” after a long road trip in 30,000 Pounds of Bananas.

He told us stories, and like Steinbeck or Austen, his yarns entered our hearts and made us weep or smile with the fortunes of the characters he forged in his mind.

Harry Chapin, so long gone now, was a musical and storytelling saint, an inspiration to anyone who longs to tell a story.

Who of us doesn’t love a story from the sweet, innocent nights where we lay in our comfy beds listening to Daddy’s voice reading from a book, to sitting in concert halls where Stuart McLean or Garrison Keillor recite homespun yarns to us?

That was Harry … Master Storyteller. I miss you Harry… and…

I’m gonna write a blog post about you because it’s so much easier than composing a song. But one day …

 

 

 

HarryChapin

The 1,000 Hour Rule

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10000 hours

I’m just too ADHD for Malcolm Gladwell’s renowned 10,000 hour rule of mastering something … ANYTHING.

Sure, it worked for the Beatles and for Bill Gates and countless prominent others – but like American Senator Lloyd Bentsen said to Dan Quayle during the 1988 vice-presidential debate:

I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy“.

And I am no Paul McCartney or Steve Jobs or Margaret Mead.

These are all extraordinary people who bled buckets of blood and sweat over years and years to pursue and perfect just one special thing.

Songwriting. The Personal Computer. Anthropology.

paul-mccartney

They focused their entire beings on their passion with unbounded dedication. It’s bloody admirable and I celebrate their accomplishments. It’s like they won gold medals in the Life Olympics.

But for this Man on the Fringe, anything I do for more than an hour or two at a time becomes a burden … yes, a job. Even my laboratory job that I enjoy becomes a job after 4 hours at my desk, so I’m packing it in in two weeks and indulging my ADHD side.

I accept and sometimes even celebrate that I’ll never be a master of anything.  Huh, you say? Why?

I know Mr. Miyagi would be disappointed in me… wax on, wax off… oh, go catch flies with chopsticks Mr. Miyagi!

I’m resolving to be a mini-master using the 1,000 hour rule.

Yup. 1,000 hours.

One thousand hours is no small feat.

Concentrated effort that is expended for that time frame will take you or me to a level well above the norm – whether its playing violin, sinking golf putts, or painting landscapes. It just won’t make us Anne Sophie Mutter, or Tiger Woods, or Salvador Dali.

Let’s put 1,000 hours into context ’cause it’s pretty meaningless when I just put it out there as a number.

A personal example: I’ve been writing this blog once each week (more or less) for a little more than 2 years now.

On average, I guesstimate that I spend 5-6 hours perched wiggling and squirming in front of my keyboard for each post. It’s not easy to avoid the lure of porn for such long periods. Modern man wasn’t made this way …

Putting all of my grade-school math skills into play tells me that 52 weeks x 2 years x an average of 5.5 hours… equals…

572 hours

572 hrs2

This means it’s going to take me about 182 weeks of writing these posts to reach 1,000 hrs of writing. That’s three and a half years of consistent week-in week-out blog writing at a pace of 5 and a half hours a week.

That’s a time frame I can live with. I hope – and feel confident – that my writing skills will continually improve at this pace AND it lets me do a bunch of other things I love to do all at the same time.

Take those same numbers and plug them into whatever your great interest or passion is: piano, knitting, dumpster diving, baton twirling, soap making, archery, Russian lessons, disco dancing … the list is endless but the point remains the same.

You can become really good at a number of things in just a few years with some reasonable focus and effort.

No SuperHuman skills necessary.

Man in leotard

See… anyone can do it …

If I was trying to achieve the 10,000 hour level of accomplishment, I would need to multiply my daily efforts by 2 to 10 times in order to meet the MASTER level within 4-25 years.

This is why I could never be a great entrepreneur. The passion and focus needed is not a part of my internal makeup … it just isn’t.

There’s something beautiful about doing something for the first time.

If I tried to dedicate 10,000 hours to merely one area of interest, I’d be sailing away at the end of my years with many fewer life firsts – and there are so many first adventures I don’t want to miss.

So … Paul, John, George and Ringo’s troubles are all far away with their “Yesterday”‘s fame. Bill Gates can feel relaxed sitting by his fireplace knowing I will never replace his “Windows”.

Dear Mr. Gladwell:

I’m only 1/10th the person that you write about in your excellent book (Outliers) but I’m content knowing that I can live a great life without being GREAT.

There will be no gold medal for this guy but I’ll stand on the podium all the same – silver medallion swinging in the breeze from my neck – with a smile just as big as if I was the winner.

That is, if I can fit the medal presentation in between German language class and creating a fantastic Chicken Kiev a la Julia Child .

Sincerely,

Man On The Fringe

Dilbert 10000 hr rule

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