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The Investment Magic of Writing…

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“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
poet Mary Oliver

…………………..

music magic

I’m trying to become a musical magician but it hurts like an August sunburn…

I was a huge fan of Elton John in his early years… Yellow Brick Road, Candle In The Wind, Love Lies Bleeding, Tiny Dancer, Your Song… tons more.

Honestly though, much of Bernie Taupin’s lyrical imagery for John’s songs were beyond my ken (lack of hallucinogenic stimulants?) …

back to the howling old owl in the woods, hunting the horny back toad…

What the hell is that? Intriguing, yes…

I dreamed and schemed of wearing weird multi-hued eyeglasses in my teens as if that would make me a super songwriter… NOPE!

Alright, eyeglasses aren’t the magical secret. So what is?

elton john glasses.jpg

Good writing, whether prose, poetry, lyrics, or music is a jigsaw puzzle of pieces that conjures magic from the ether.

But like any magic, it isn’t really magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand.

Good writing is hard work and when it reads or sounds easy to our ears and eyes, I know the crafter has worked the hardest of all.

Hemingway and Stephen King and Shakespeare and JK Rowling were/are no slouches at the art of writing. Imagination, imagery, metaphor.

Lennon and McCartney, JS Bach, Paul Simon, Antonio Vivaldi dedicated 10,000 hours and beyond to their efforts.

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery
She read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field… Paul Simon (America) 

Paul Simon takes us on a emotional journey in 8 lines of verse where the initial fun and exuberance of young love fades as they pass over the landscape… it’s simplicity that likely took him a month or more to write.

He could have told us the same story in 4 lines filled with cliche and “you and me” directness but instead filled our minds with storybook images.

………………………….

… magic, it’s reality with a sweaty halo wand …

………………………….

Pretty much any of us can get lucky and write something of quality… something that’s meaningful and memorable… once.

Almost any person can line up a tee shot once in their life and hit a hole-in-one. But can they replicate it? Play the Vegas slots enough and one day a big winner will likely come your way. Once.

But the writers and musicians that make me want to kiss them and raise their children, are those that work past the “lucky” stage and consistently find ways of speaking to us that engage our head and our heart.

I used to think that inspiration was the key. So wrong.

Inspiration is a lazy verb… hell, it’s not EVEN a verb… how slothful is that?

David Ben, a former Toronto tax lawyer turned magician, has been an entertainer for almost 40 years and says he still rehearses several hours each day. Inspiration through dogged rehearsal.

Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel the same.

Inspiration is the feverish result of watching and listening and dreaming and pushing and pulling.

There’s an inquisitiveness aspect to magic-making where we drill in closely at a microscopic level trying to understand what it is that makes something work.

I’ve always been far too lazy or disinterested to understand how a car engine truly functions, or how a sail catches the wind in just the right way. I’d spend my 10,000 hours of learning in a bored-out-of-my-tree haze.

I hunger for magic that makes me jump up and down.

I unearth that feeling when I’m typing words, or picking out guitar notes.

But the inspiration usually only comes with time investment, which is really good for me as I jump up and down when I think of investment.

For the past two years I’ve invested time and thoughtful energy into a song, a song that I publicly previewed for the first time at an Open Mic in Oliver last night.

Two years investment. One song. Three musical minutes.

And it’s an investment – based on a lifetime of learning – that I look at… and as so often like with my financial investments, the end result isn’t quite as rich as I would like.

But that’s just being greedy.

It’s not the wondrous magic filled with fireworks that I dreamed of, but it is magic lite. 

And magical writing – wondrous or lite – is a process that goes nowhere without the sweat equity that makes any investment prosperous.

All these years later I’m still trying to become a musical magician, and damn if it still doesn’t hurt like an August sunburn…

 

Paper Rose photo (1).jpg

 

 

 

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WORLD ON FIRE!

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OK fire

Okanagan Valley fire this week…

FIRESTORM…

I’m a new age kind of primeval guy…

I love words and their power and usage… and … I love fire, although at times I fear its power and usage…

Fire can be fun, even flirty.

I play around with words like kindle, spark, burning, ignited, flicker, fuming, blaze, zeal, combustion, inferno, smouldered.

Every one of these words says FIRE.  But in your mind, each also kindles other thoughts, right?

Let me give you a small example of some presumed (cheesy Harlequin-style!) fiery narrative from the movie When Harry Met Sally.

The first time they met through a mutual friend, Sally didn’t have even a flicker of love for Harry. By contrast, as he spit grape seeds out the car window on a “friendly” road trip to New York, Harry looked over and thought to himself, “Sally is hot.” 

Ten years later when they met once again, they instantly felt a spark of sexual attraction, a kindling of desire for each other, but they tried to ignore the inner coals of ardour.

Beneath it all however, their true feelings kept smouldering.

Finally one night, in an unexpected development, their passions inflamed and blazed, and they made love. 

That was fun FIRE.

Sally Orgasm2.jpg

BURNING INFERNO!

Language fills me with delicious wonder in how we transform and manipulate certain words into other meanings that give depth and nuance to the joy of speech and writing. Wordplay in the novels we read, the movies we watch, brings us a kaleidoscope of delight.

But. Yes, there’s always a but.

Fire can be frightening.

Today, I’m looking over this computer screen and out my window at a not-too-distant wall of grey-white smoke.

A sooty curtain obliterates any view I typically have of the picturesque hillsides filled with Ponderosa Pines speckling the east side of Okanagan Lake.

Three nights ago, forks of jagged lightning dramatically crashed to ground minus any rainfall that may have quelled the youthfully energetic flames that erupted.

As the sun set, creamsicle-orange flames flicked the dark sky, reaching their fingers up to share their fiery heat with the moon and stars.

It was as startlingly beautiful as a Hawaiian sunset over the Pacific but much more ominous than romantic.

And now, when the sun arises each morning, the beautiful clear vistas we’ve enjoyed for the first month of summer have transformed into hazy greys and browns and oranges set against a noisy sky full of water bomber planes, aircraft bearing huge bellies of bright red retardant, helicopters with big buckets trailing beneath.

The heavens are abuzz as if a heavy, swarming mosquito infestation has suddenly hatched.

The perennial regularity of fire is the new normal in this dry interior valley; each summer season brings a host of rippling flames to one section or another of our tree-laden hills.

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Fire is heavenly… fire is hell… we love fire… we hate fire.

I’ve played with fire my entire life… most psychiatrists would slot me into the pyromaniac category with little hesitation.

The best part of camping when I was a kid was the arrival of sunset in the trees, when I’d kindle little fires inside a stone circle next to our family tent-trailer, happily feasting on the heady scent of smoke, poking away at the mesmerizing glimmer of coals crackling and popping.

I loved receiving cheap cologne sets as a birthday gift, not only because it triggered a momentary sense of being grown up but… yes… the alcohol in the fragrant elixir made for fun little fires on the concrete floor in my garage… thinking back, I probably smelled of smoke until I was 13 years old. Bottle that, Calvin Klein or Armani!

Later on, in my first lab job in Yellowknife, while collecting blood samples, I looked forward to entering the hospital rooms of tiny elderly Inuit women who’d be snacking on wild red berries and who reeked of strong wood smoke. I’d breathe deeply of the musky scent they carried from their far north homes. So much sweeter than my birthday colognes!

Fire can create sadness and calamity.

A woman I work with when I’m bartending these days lost a child in a motel fire years back. Her baby snatched away in an instant. How could she ever again look at or think of fire without reliving a horror tragedy? Where does she find her smile thanks to fire?

Musically, I remember Stan Rogers, a treasured Canadian singer/songwriter (Northwest Passage , Barrett’s Privateers) with huge potential who perished at age 33 in an airplane fire on the tarmac in Cincinnati. Smoke-snuffed possibilities and promise.

FIRE. Beauty and the Beast.

Where would we be as humanity without fire.

The fire in her eyes. The fire in his belly.

Fire is enthusiasm, fire is lust, fire is fearsome, fire is strength.

You’re fired! Fire at will! 

It’s fire that feeds our hungry bellies and fire that feeds our vivid imaginations.

Yes… merely peering out my window this week at wind-fanned smoke and flames has struck a fire in my head with words and ideas that carry me along this journey from my past…  to my today… and give me inspiration for the future.

That is one powerful word.

FIRE.

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300… The Vagenda Continues

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300

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

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

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

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

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

My foolishness persists to this day. Go figure.

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

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

men group.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

darwin.png

Happily, I feel confident it will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

discrimination-fish.jpg

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

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

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

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

So I’ll keep trying to understand.

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

… until My Times Up.

Thanks for joining me and the 300 club today.

woman and man

This Is Us? That’ll Be The Day…

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Guilty Pleasures … Episode 1,012,325.

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… I was watching an episode of THIS IS US last night… and not just because I’ve had a minor crush on winsome girl-next-door Mandy Moore for years which – gulp – even to me seems kind of creepy knowing that I’m easily old enough to be her father.

Hey, there’s a psychotherapy session for another day. Squeeze me in between Norman Bates and Harvey Weinstein.

I watch the show because the stories are so raw, so borderline melodramatically overwrought, so personally intense… but eminently watchable. Every character is flawed and still lovable, so human.

This Is Us.

My only wish is that maybe they find time to shine a few more splashes of sunshine in their scripts. The best cinema and TV have a delicately sculpted balance of carefree and fun blended with sorrow and gloom.

I crave deep emotion and pathos, but I don’t want to plummet down a dark hole having them create a need in me for antidepressant pharmaceuticals where none exists at the moment.

This Is Us - Season 1

Last night’s episode titled That’ll Be The Day pierced me, and not only for the obvious reason of at last discovering the root of the family’s pain… you and I know that Buddy Holly’s song ends… that I die… yes, we now know when and how Jack died. I don’t want to seem impatient but OMG… that was more than enough foreplay.

In between distracted bites of carrot/banana/pineapple cupcakes with cream cheese icing I made earlier in the day, I was intimately drawn in when Randall (the adopted black “triplet”) said to his screwed-up white actor-brother Kevin, “… Dad’s already been gone longer than we had him.” 

Randall realizes that he’s lived longer without a father than he did with one.

Yes. This Is Us.

I’m now the age my mother was when she died.

Yes. This Is Us.

Randall reminded me that I’ve lived much longer without a mother and father than I did with parents. Inside, there’s this little nag telling me I’m a “dead man walking.”

The writers of This Is Us know how to turn us inside out, diving and examining the passage and import of our lives. That’s where its power lies.

Of course the writers of the show are skilled story-crafters who weave the past and present in wonderfully evocative ways, always leading us up and down alleys… alleys we know exist and what lies down them, but we desperately want them to show us even so. That’s impressive.

For years after, the triplets Randall and Kevin and Kate all live mournful moments in their lives because of the last interaction they shared with their father. An inner tape recording of their final conversation plays incessantly, shaping the adults they’ve become.

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It’s slightly tragic that we might allow ourselves to be affected by one negative prattle moment with someone we love.

My last conversation with my Mom on a sunny April afternoon didn’t end with a smile and a hug… it was more like me looking up like a little teenage jerk and saying, “God, stop bugging me Mom, I’ll apply at McDonald’s tomorrow or the next day”.

A month later I was a cherubic McBurger Flipper and my mother was lying cold underground.

That vaguely negative moment was our last, and I’ll admit that it lingered unhappily with me for a short while, but it doesn’t affect my tranquil memories or love for my Mom. A moment of crabbiness shouldn’t impinge on our obvious love and closeness.

I have a scrapbook in my head filled with cheerful memories and moments that have crowded out almost every other unfavourable second.

The arts we view and listen to pass through a fine filter between our ears as they reach our brain. A colander lies within us picking out the explanatory snippets telling us about who we are.

As you read these words, you may be delving inside, reliving some portion of your life that I’ve just reminded you of.

This Is Us.

We watch, absorb, connect, and live our lives over again – for better or worse – on-screen.

This is how we watch movies.

This is how we read books.

This is how we listen to music.

This is how we take heed of our neighbour telling us about his new motorcycle, or her sister’s operation.

Right now I’m enjoying the guilty pleasure of sitting here snug in a cozy office chair staring out my window. Random moments with free-ranging thought clouds.

Short fragments of dialogue between Kate, Randall and Kevin ping-pong through my head along with some soft guitar licks that punctuate and reinforce the sentiments of their story.

A luminous white snowline runs halfway down the valley hillside across in Naramata as I absorb delicious harmonies of Foxes and Fossils singing Helplessly Hoping, envisioning myself as the male “Fossil” singer in the middle… listening to my inner voice whispering…

This Is Us.

 

 

 

A Simple Sunny Day Conversation

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… muddled darkness still filled the winter-chilled room when I slid back into my dream …

William Goldman, Nora Ephron and Aaron Sorkin sat in a haze of talkers’ block, frustratingly biting fingernails and pulling hair over a discussion of how… how and why they write their movie screenplays.

Yes…

THE William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, All The President’s Men, The Princess Bride),

Yes…

THE Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia) and

Yes…

THE Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network, Molly’s Game).

Three spirited and gifted talents, hardworking Jewish folks, mystically wired to type out brilliant lines of cinematic dialogue that the world slurps up like delicious soup from a beautiful pottery bowl in the sunshine.

…………………..

Butch Cassidy: Do you believe I’m broke already?
Etta Place: Why is there never any money, Butch?
Butch Cassidy: Well, I swear, Etta, I don’t know. I’ve been working like a dog all my life and I can’t get a penny ahead
Etta Place: Sundance says it’s because you’re a soft touch, and always taking expensive vacations, and buying drinks for everyone, and you’re a rotten gambler.
Butch Cassidy: Well that might have something to do with it.
William Goldman

Butch and sundance.jpg

…………………..

Just like in the movies they wrote, the conversation flows like silky sap from maple trees in early spring.
 .

Why do we bother writing if it’ll all just be rain down a drain when we’re gone?’

‘And why am I trying to write lines coming from people who are smarter than me? I don’t think it can be done.’

‘Sure, and why do we make tasty foods to eat when the basic building blocks of healthy life don’t require any flavour, or at least pleasant flavour?’

All so serious.

Nora smiled and sighed loudly. Shaking her head, she tilted up to the royal blue, squinting into the sun beating down on them as they sipped margaritas on Sorkin’s back patio overlooking the resonant Pacific on California’s coast. A slew of gulls squealed and shrieked over the waves.

Guys, this is silly. There is no reason to writing.’

‘There is no reason to life. It just is.’

‘Stop obsessing about why and enjoy the trip, the process.’

You can never have too much butter – that is my belief. If I have a religion, that’s it,‘ she added, not knowing why.

Nora was always so grounded. So sensible. Or maybe it was the tequila-tainted inebriation talking.

But of course, Nora is dead and has access to metaphysical ideas and thought that the rest of us here on earth can’t see yet.

Except dreams.

Dreams allow us that delicious fusion of combining life with death, truth with fiction, oil with water.

…………………..

Sally (on faking orgasms): “Nothing. It’s just that all men are sure it never happened to them and all women at one time or other have done it so you do the math.”

Nora Ephron

Sally Orgasm2.jpg

…………………..

People don’t talk in real life like they do in the movies. That’s the beauty of what we do.’

Real people don’t kidnap couples from the side of the road and boldly declare, “We’re Bonnie and Clyde. We rob banks!” Never been said outside of a movie theatre.’

Yeah or … “You can’t handle the truth! Son we live in a world that has walls, and those have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it, you, you lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury, you have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence while grotesque and incomprehensible, to you, saves lives.” ‘

‘That’s true, we can’t write the boring stuff, but we can take conversations and make them sound alive, believable as if it really happened just the way we wrote it. Audiences want to believe’

Believe, huh? No one believes or cares that we wrote crap for years that no producer or studio would touch.

…………………..

NEWSROOM’s Will McAvoy (to college students proudly calling America the greatest country in the world): “There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies.”

Aaron Sorkin

Newsroom .jpg

…………………..

Aaron jumped up and after a slight wobble, arrowed himself back into the house, returning just as quickly with a thick, yellowing manuscript in his hand.

‘Look, I wrote this screenplay for Warren Beatty years ago. It’s called Ocean of Storms. It’s embarrassing. There’s no music in this. It’s totally missing any rhythm. I wish I could write it from scratch all over again.’

‘Shit you guys… I’m dead … Sleepless no more… so listen up while you can.’

Nora leaned forward, scanning the faces of both men. Goldman and Sorkin straightened in their leisure chairs, looking all the part of schoolboys in short pants ready to be chastised by the wise schoolmarm.

‘We all want instant perfection. You want a meaning to writing or life? I’ll give you my secret. Free, keep your dimes in your pockets.’

‘You do what you do well and know that it will never be good enough.’

‘You write and you write and you get a teeny fraction better, maybe not every day but at least every year or every decade. And you capture joy like children’s marbles knowing that your abilities and understanding are tiptoeing up a mountain who’s peak is in the clouds and you’ll never see the peak no matter how high you climb because the little secret is… there is no peak.’

‘All you do is keep making the mountain higher and higher like you’re some Godless one who can build their own mountain. And once in a while you stop climbing and look around at the beautiful scenery below because the higher you climb the more magnificent the view becomes.’

‘We’re all a bunch of Shakespearean fools, or insecure Charlie Brown’s. The climber one day stumbles and falls, but the mountain still stands there for others to ascend and make larger.’

The limey margaritas tingled and settled inside in a soft, mellow pillow…

… my dreamy haze was lifting in early morning light as, in a muted unusual moment, all three, the great dialogue communicators, sat quietly, reflecting on a simple, sunny day conversation.

Sunshine on Pacific.jpg

 

 

 

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).

…………..

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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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.

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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?

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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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