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Ransom Note To Your Inner Discovery

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writer frustrated

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone can enter.

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

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

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

Here, let me give you some context.

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

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

Easy peasy, right?

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

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

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

Stephen King and JK Rowling

A Bonanza of Creative Brain-Force

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second greatest lesson was more of an internal discovery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How well do you know yourself?

How do you unearth your internal answers?

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

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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

Yes, Women WILL Dominate In The Years To Come…

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What did God say after he created man?

“I can do better.”

God created women

I have a meandering mind, so today, I’ll wander around and about and hopefully you can trace my convoluted trail … or trial!

I’ve been writing this MAN ON THE FRINGE blog for almost 5 years now.

I’ve posted close to … well, let’s have a look… exactly 258 entries. That’s the equivalent of about 3 average-sized fiction books.

And because I’m a stock market and numbers guru/geek I usually look at my return on investment – how much am I being paid for the time invested.

In this case, I’ve calculated that return as …. drum roll…. $0.

And I just don’t care. Writing blog posts makes me happy, which is a pretty good ROI in my books.

I read and look at a lot of blogs.

There are millions out there, many of them birthed by mere ordinary people like me who have this urge, an inner compulsion to write and share.

When you write a blog, it’s important to read quality books and blogs to know what others write about and how they write to keep an audience interested.

When a friend or relative says they like a post I’ve written on any particular week, I’m always happy. Like a toddler, I love it when mommy says I’ve done good. There’s still a piece of me that craves validation. Everyone wants to be the hero of their own story. I know I do.

And when a stranger writes and says they like my post then I’m really happy because it’s truly about the quality of writing or something in the message that was meaningful for them.

Writing these missives each week is a narcissistic indulgence I look forward to because I’m never sure what little morsel in the news that passes my way, or in my memory hard drive, or in the sex-addled recesses of my mind, will insist on being expounded upon.

Blog writing is a continual discovery of the things that are meaningful for me… so usually it’s about sex, music, religion, food, investing, travel… or… interesting people I encounter. The folks I’m surrounded by intrigue me and teach me.

Blogging is a white cane that helps me uncover the hidden messages that surround me.

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After these 5 years of weekly posts, the most viewed article I’ve written is called Your Castration Awaits – 8 Reasons Women Will Dominate Men In The 21st Century

It was written in the summer of 2014 and boiled down to these bullet points:

  1. Women don’t waste time playing video games and watching porn. Girls just grow up and get on with life…well, and obsess over shoes but that’s a minor pastime on the way to the corner office.
  2. Women excel at communication and conciliation, whereas mens’ authoritarian style of coercion is outdated. Women are attuned to social dynamics and know the benefits of collaboration vs. competition.
  3. Women are getting educated and at higher levels. In just about every field, women are either in the lead or are charging hard to take the lead. It’s like China vs the U.S.. Get lazy, and complacent and watch the competition overtake you.
  4. Women know how to balance career and family. Both career and social worlds can thrive simultaneously. Men can’t pull off multi-tasking unless beer and a TV remote are involved.
  5. Men persist in thinking they can rise through manual labour. The world has changed and many men refuse to believe or acknowledge it. If men don’t excel and women do, don’t blame women. Wake up and smell that coffee boys!
  6. Womens’ self-definition is changing. Women don’t feel the need to acquiesce to men to sooth their egos. If a job needs doing, women will just jump in and do it. Damsels in distress are so yesterday.
  7. Allowing women to vote, fight wars, run businesses, and play sports levels the field. Women may never be able to build the physical strength of a man, but can equal or better him in every other facet of life if they choose to.
  8. Men want to get rich quick but don’t want to work or wait for it. Men are too impatient and unwilling to take the longer, slower route to a better solution. Too many impetuous mistakes are made by wanting everything now.

 

It’s still true today.

I can see the writing on the wall. And the black/whiteboards.

When I tutor at the local college, I wander past classrooms filled with far more girls than guys. Even the science and math classes.

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TV newsrooms and political halls are swelling in serious female presence with each year that floats by.

Even I can see that I’m a relic of a previous age.

I tell myself that I’m enlightened but underneath the progressive exterior I present, I remain a man raised in a male-dominant society…. a man with just a smidgen-holding of the sick Trump notion that I have the power to grab a woman by the pussy whenever I want.

Our planet is in a tsunami flux with metamorphosis coming our way from every direction.

The one direction I’m most tuned into? Slowly but inevitably… the Women’s March on Dominance… a feminine evolution/revolution.

Now I don’t want to totally dump on my own gender.

Men are a fair group as these things go, but after some millennia, we’ve had our time, for a time. We’ve overseen huge calamities and also huge progress. Yes, we’ve made a million blunders.

But is there anyone who would realistically prefer to live in a 19th century world of poor hygiene, high infant and maternal mortality, lack of antibiotics, no voting rights for women? I can go on and on.

Now we need to step back and reflect on where WE want to be in 100 years.

Women have done just that over the past century, and I like, with maybe a few hesitations, where the female gender is heading.

The world of “might is right” is rapidly fading like morning stars at sunrise.

In the bible book of Genesis, it’s stated, “God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night“.

The sun and the moon, perhaps the metaphor that speaks to men and women in historic terms.

For millennia, from the dawn of civilization, in most of our world, men have ruled the day. Simple brute force and testosterone held the upper hand.

The dawn has grown elderly and tired, even tiresome, now.

Sunset is approaching, growing nearer and nearer and soon… soon… the lesser light, the moon, women, will rise in the starlit evening sky where the quiet and peace of nightfall will be taken gently by the feminine hand.

The shift of momentum is whispering softly in our ears.

moon whispers

 

 

 

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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What’s This Blog About? A Breath in the Life …

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One minute he was sitting in his car … breathing … just like you and me, perhaps laughing, maybe scared, maybe just sitting quietly thinking about things.

Then, the next he was a blood-spattered mess like we might see in a TV cop drama. DEAD.

On one hand, in the pretend world, we watch for “entertainment”, while on the other hand we cry because it’s real life and we don’t like seeing real people killed.

I know I don’t. I feel the pain.

Today I harbour dark thoughts and nauseous feelings about a cat I hit with my car in Quesnel in 1981. Yeah, 1981… 35 years ago and it still bothers me.

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People who don’t know that I have an alter-ego known as The Man on the Fringe and that I write a blog are bit surprised and curious when I mention it.

People don’t see these alter-egos, the “super-hero capes” and masks we don’t prominently wear in day-to-day life.

We all have aspects to our lives that many acquaintances have no insight into.

I write blogs, you raise equestrian horses or Golden Retrievers, the lady you met behind the deli counter supports a Syrian refugee family and is a massage therapist on weekends.

People almost always ask, “What is your blog about?”.

Well, initially they make snide comments like, “Are you sure it’s not The Man With The Fringes, or The Man in the Fridge?” before they ask the more serious question.

And it used to be the answer was simple. The words just flowed like warm blossom honey off my tongue.

  • Men and Women
  • Venus and Mars
  • XX and XY
  • Penis and Vagina
  • The Similarities and Confusions 

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Now it’s harder to define. Partly it’s because a year and a half back, the FRINGE Man retired from his lab job.

37 years a lab tech.

For 37 years this white-coat occupation defined my life. I was an almost solitary man in a sea of women …

… a teaspoon of testosterone swirling in a large, steaming cauldron of estrogen.

A blood-testing laboratory served me up my own inner laboratory of gender observation.

It was a fun position and I enjoyed it.

And there were times I admittedly pushed the limits of acceptability … often approaching the edge of gender-inappropriateness before easing back on the throttle to stay just inside the lines of propriety.

Most times I think I succeeded in not jumping over the line, although, I confess a few might disagree. Veni Vidi Aberravi (I came I saw I flubbed).

Anyway… the lights have gone dark on that gender-based observational lab now.

It was just like this every day!!

It was just like this every day!!

So at this point in time I write about those things that interest me – just the stuff I feel inspired or bothered or excited by.

I’ve turned the microscope into my own navel, not the flesh-eating bacteria that once occupied my gaze.

For example, this week I’m bothered and saddened to hear that a 22 year-old local man whom I knew when he was a youngster – a child adopted from Nigeria to a local family here in Canada – was found murdered in a car a few days ago.

He was a cute, smiley, enthusiastic little guy who would come and watch his older brother play soccer alongside my son who was a teammate.

Almost a team mascot, he played the role of parent entertainer during unexciting moments of the match.

In my mind, I ask what events and forks in the road in the last dozen or so years brought this happy-go-lucky kid to become the victim of a “targeted” murder, as the police have described it.

What heat and pressure created an apparent lump of coal instead of the envisaged diamond?

Where had he been, what had he seen, who did he hang out with that brought him to his sad, premature, violent ending?

It reinforces in my mind that all of us change over years.

We encounter people and ideas and activities that shape who we are and where we’re going. It’s like global warming on a personal level. We barely recognize the glacial pace of change but it’s there nonetheless.

I’m a slightly different person today than I was 6 years ago. You are too.

I know the shape and dimension of who I am was altered when we spent 4 months living in Cusco, Peru those 6 years back. Learning Spanish and interacting with beautiful, generous local folks and enthusiastic, young international travellers moulded this lump of clay that I am.

Maybe it was eating guinea pig that brought about change, maybe it was the spiritual magic that emanates from Machu Picchu. I don’t know, it’s that insidious.

Every day we’re sculpted and whittled tiny-bit by tiny-bit, the canvas of our art transformed.

But that’s just an aside.

I’m writing now to explore my inner mind, to develop creative thought processes that influence not just my writing but my music and my personal interactions with the world in general. Each week is just a breath in my life.

I’ve lived most of my breaths by “rational” rules and I’m now at a time where I’m truly enjoying living my days more across the “creative” side of the tracks.

For 37 years it was pretty important to a lot of sick people that I never explored a sense of creative in my laboratory job. Creative thinking in such a scientific and rationality-based career would be dangerous, and … most likely illegal too.

Next week I’ll inhale a deep breath and another 1,000 words will exhale. Hopefully, I’ll unearth something creative buried inside.

I don’t know what that breath will look like, not yet …

… who knows … maybe I’ll write a whole blog post about the word:

SAVVOCITY

… just because it’s a cool word.

machu picchu

 

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.

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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.

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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

EXTRA EXTRA … Don’t Quit Your Day Job! Blog Post #102

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the_old_man_in_the_mirror

Some days we can’t avoid looking at the face, the impostor that pretends it’s us in the mirror, which means that today’s blog will be one of personal reflection.

I’m a bit of an incurable dreamer.

But even I can’t dream of ever eking out a living as a writer, or a songwriter, or a singer.

“Whatever you do, don’t quit your day job”, you could say to me.

Yes, not a single penny has touched the creases of my sweaty palms, or my bank account, from setting words down here.

My only “artistic” payment was received years ago, when, occasionally, a couple of friends and I sweetly harmonized Simon and Garfunkle and James Taylor folk songs in Yellowknife bars and received “payment” in drinks … which is really the currency of choice for 20-somethings anyway.

Larry Nancy Jim YK Bar 1978 copy

Larry (me), Nancy and Jim make beautiful harmony in Yellowknife’s Hoist Room in 1978…

But for me at least, writing’s not about the money … writing has swept a veil away from my eyes and made my life more LIVABLE.

Just over a year and a half ago, I began writing these weekly messages with the goal of reaching 100 posts and then perhaps moving on to other things. Starting the blog was a nervous leap for me because I knew I would expose my messy insides to you and I worried about what you would think.

Two weeks ago while meandering, listening, observing and soaking up the cultural uniqueness of Morocco and Spain, I quietly passed through the 100 blog post mark.

There I was, living the Hemingway-esque life of Spanish cafes and cold cervezas and observing people chattering in the crowded, narrow streets. Travelling takes my mind in a slew of fresh, new directions just like the Santa Maria carried Columbus to discover new worlds.

And now, I’m stamping my childish feet, and in a fit of personal selfishness, I’ve decided to carry on writing this blog a bit longer, sharing with you my foibles and insights. How long? … how many more posts? … who knows? … But who can resist the pay?

It’s no great secret – as you’ve likely figured out by now – I don’t have any magical thoughts or special gifts or amazing intelligence (feel free to shake your head in disagreement here). Blog writing has been a challenge I put forward to myself to generate and mix together that idea sex that might connect with others in a small way.

And sort of like what I find when I’m running, I get a little “endorphin-like” high in sharing my ideas, my personal thoughts, and developing word pictures in my writing. You might get this feeling when you’re knitting, playing piano, fixing a bike, or cooking. I think it comes down to our personal passions.

I have the internet and YOU to thank for making this all possible. And for that, I’ll be happy to share ALL of my revenues with you equally!

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Paying attention ...

Paying attention …

Writing makes me pay attention.

Our lives, yours and mine I’ve learned, are full of outward observation and self-discovery if we just pay attention.

I’ve realized that before I began writing these weekly blurbs, I wasn’t paying attention.

Now, when I step outside my house on a bright spring morning, I see the deep, snaking wrinkles in the orangy bark of the Ponderosa Pine trees more precisely and hear the “dee dee dee”  call of chickadees more consciously.

To write – a book, a blog, a song –  you must observe.

When I’m speaking with someone, I’m more aware of the tight smiles or hidden joy in facial expressions and tone of voice. There’s a whole lot that you and I say to others that the blind would never hear.

It’s like there’s this alternate universe that I never knew existed. How many other universes are out there that I’m not noticing?

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Love Me or Hate Me … Your Choice

It’s easy to get people to hate you when you write a blog. Newspapers (usually) deal in facts, along the line of what the satirical The Onion states:

World Mortality Rate Holds Steady At 100%”

world mortality 100%

But a blog post is opinion and attitude, and not everyone shares the same opinions. I read somewhere that when you write an opinion piece, 1/3 will love you, 1/3 will hate you, and 1/3 won’t care.

I’d love it if 100% of the people who read my blog loved me and agreed with me 100% of the time. Fat chance. That’s a dream world beyond this galaxy, and would also be a bland upshot if nothing I said challenged or rubbed you in a slightly disagreeable way.

I don’t want to hurt you or anyone else with my views, but I also don’t want, like the editor of my small-town local newspaper, to write a page-full of words and end up saying nothing for fear of alienating anyone.

Most of the comments I receive back about my posts are from friends who are wonderfully positive and supportive.

When I hear the little computer “ting” of a new comment coming in, I excitedly read and absorb the message. Then I sit back and bask in the glow when the responder agrees or gives me a pat on the back. “They obviously have wonderful powers of judgment.”, I say to myself.

But when people get angry at me I get angry back – “jerk, what does he know about anything? “. Then I hold my breath for a few seconds, breathe deeply again and try to decide if their message has a positive take-away for me. Hopefully, I’ll find a nugget of sage wisdom that will become a part of my future thinking.

If not, then I try to forget it. Just doesn’t matter. Then I envision them having sex and the stupid look on their face. Breaks me up every time.

I choose to write this blog, and so I have to accept the consequences of how my message will be interpreted, right?

So whether I tell you how much I love women in high heels, or how I loath “Man Boys” –  young men that spend their lives playing video games in their parent’s basements, or how deeply I admire Steve Carell, I’ll live with the fallout if that gets under your skin.

Bottom line … I’m staying with you here for a while longer. And the fact that you are willing to take 5 or 10 minutes from your incredibly busy lives each week to read something I write, is INCREDIBLY gratifying to me.

Love Me or Hate Me … I’m The Man On The Fringe!

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…or Hate Me, your Choice!