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VULNERABILITY Seems To Be The Hardest Word … Big Boys Don’t Cry

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Man in war crying

It’s my life and I’ll cry if I want to …

I’ve wasted a lot of time over the years trying to hide my feelings and imperfections.

It’s a stupid exercise, but peer and society’s dictates are strong motivators to bury our intimate thoughts.

As a young teenager in the early ’70’s, I laid in the late, hot darkness of my bedroom, a thin ribbon of warm, amber hall light sneaking through the bottom edge of the door. Thick, humid air off Lake Ontario fell heavily through the window making simple breathing an effort.

My bedroom was typically psychedelic-adolescent of the era with colourful, fluorescent posters of Three Dog Night and Led Zeppelin hung out at odd angles on the walls – groovy, manly music posters of guys with long stringy hair, cool and unemotional as hell; guys I was trying to identify with and mimic in my early years at Glendale High School.

Led Zeppelin

But my attempts at exterior coolness sharply contrasted with the veiled reality I felt laying there – fretting and unsettled about the unknowable possibility of my Mom dying – with small rivulets of tears tickling down my cheek, falling gently, soaking silently into the pillow.

It was a desolate place because these feelings were something I could … would … NEVER share with anyone. Not my Mom or Dad, not my siblings, and especially not my best friends Renato, Frank, or Jerome.

Fears and vulnerability were an inner war to be fought on a minute-to-minute basis. No battle in this realm could be lost, for if even one clash was forfeited, then the war was over. You were a “girl”… none of us boys wanted to be a “girl”.

In my sissy-free mind, I had to be bravely perfect, or close to it.

At my own Mom’s funeral when I was 15, not a single tear escaped my eyes in public.

…………………….

I’m a so-called grown-up now and I can let my hair down (oh wait, sadly I can’t do that the way I could as a ’70’s long-haired kid).

But I’ve found that shedding the cloak of tough guy is not so easy.

Childhood rules are locks and chains with strong forging. Can’t you hear the early voices of your parents, grandparents, and friends warning you to be this, or not to be that?

We want to please our parents, right?

Mommy, watch this … aren’t I good, aren’t I special?” –  “Yes Daddy, boys don’t cry …

These are the RULES.

Correction: Those WERE the rules.

Vulnerability and a willingness to look foolish are first cousins.

Vulnerability ties itself to the post that is perfection. If we have strong knots holding our weaknesses to that post, we’ll never risk losing face. We can always maintain the illusion of perfection, if only the knot holds.

With time, I’ve tried to be more honest about my mistakes and emotions. Even if I’m afraid of what people think.

Yes, I may no longer look as smart as they thought I was. And yes, for a small moment I won’t be the spinning top that never falls.

That’s ok. I’m human. I can be vulnerable and foolish.

And Praise The Lord, ’cause I look foolish a lot these days, and finally … I don’t care. I feel like Forrest Gump gallumping down the road with my leg braces snapping and breaking and flying madly off in all directions. There’s a refreshing wind blowing through my hair and a smile in my heart.

Years ago – maybe I was 18 at the time – I approached a young bikini’ed blond sitting by herself on a beach in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I’d never tried picking up a girl in a bar or on a beach ever ever in my life. But, what the hell, I thought. She looked good, and no one knew me there. I could be foolish in camouflage.

Risk versus reward … Heart thumping in my throat, I went for it.

Mr. Smooth Operator (NOT!!!), I sat down beside her beach towel and introduced myself. We talked and did the ritual animalistic checkout of our ancestors. A quick two minutes later – my jittery breath returning – I think we both knew there was no chemistry happening, no likelihood of making beautiful babies together.

So I stood up, smiled, said goodbye, and walked away… sad that nothing would come of it, but happy that I’d unlocked my vulnerability and exposed myself to potential ridicule and rejection and went for it anyway.

But unfortunately that moment of brave vulnerability was the exception and not the rule for me then and for many long years after.

Now I realize that losing my vulnerability pays dividends just like my stock portfolio and my beloved Tim Hortons’ (er … em … Burger King) shares.

Dividends-become-more-popular-again-NF1LPPHI-x-large

 

 

Creativity doesn’t exist and thrive in houses overstuffed with rules.

This is why I sometimes, really just occasionally, say things that might seem a bit outrageous in this blog. I’m trying to cast off the rules – society’s shackles that hold me back from molding something that approaches “new” (I know that little is truly new, but “idea sex” allows a fresh take on the old).

If I follow all of the rules of life, I’ll live a carbon-copy existence to everyone else. Then I’ll wake up, stuck in a lousy traffic jam cursing the guy in front of me, who’s cursing the guy behind him (that would be me). Give me a wide open country road with wind-blown sand in my teeth and gravel under my wheels.

To be creative and set in motion a billowing mushroom-cloud of ideas, I have to forget about macho perfectionism and playing one or more of the roles thrust on me by others. As a strange consequence, I even think that people like me better when they see how foolish and imperfect and vulnerable I can be.

The time is past due to boldly consider breaking rules. Crossing some boundaries is exponentially exhilarating and joyous.

Sorry, dear friend, but I’ve gotta come clean here.

This blog? I’m really just using you as my analyst.

Thank you for your service! Oh, and your cheque is in the mail!

PS. One last thing.  I still can’t shed a tear in public … some locks were just forged without a key.

Analyst

 

 

 

How Do You Become A LIST Whore?

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Hello my name is Larry and I’m a List-aholic”

mens-health-march-2014-1

 

Follow me here…

Every day, I check the Huffington Post, or Zite, or Flipboard or The Globe and Mail on my iPad or Kobo and there are lists.

10 WAYS YOU CAN BECOME… 5 REASONS YOU SHOULD… 8 TOP SECRETS OF…

Every time I stand waiting in a supermarket line, I sheepishly – is anyone watching? – glance over the covers of magazines like People and Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health filled with rules and Top 10 lists.

  • 30 Rules For Boyfriends From Two Wise Little Girls (Huffington Post)
  • 17 Things Women Think During Anal Sex (Cosmopolitan)
  • 13 Ways To Prevent Excessive Gas (Huffington Post)
  • 73+ Pivotal Blogging Shortcuts and Tips (Blog Tyrant)
  • We Shit Glitter: The 9 Unsexiest Secrets Of Being A Burlesque Dancer (Sabotage Times)

A lot of it is pure BS, but I can’t pull myself away from the lure of the car crash scenario. I don’t want to be drawn to them, but the curious irresistibility factor suckers me in. “Read me, read me!”

One more list and then another, just one more list will make me a better lover, or athlete, or father, or pickle maker. You name your interest and there’s a list to help you become a better (fill-in-the-blank).

It’s an addiction that I need to feed, and there are idea nutrients spread everywhere like a military carpet bombing. Lists are mind candy – the succinct conduit for delivery of ideas and inspiration.

Honestly, I crave lists and rules like I hunger for creamy sweet chocolate, french fries, and oxygen.

Lists play into my insecurities.

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It’s no secret to me that the success of all these lists is that people, myself included, are feeling a veiled dissatisfaction with some area(s) of their lives.

At its root lies the question, “What is my life about?

That might sound bad, but it’s really not. Let me explain, OK?

A couple of times over the past year or so, I’ve shown you the picture of actor Sally Field clutching her Oscar “Best Actress” trophy in delirious victory. I love that picture and the honesty that poured out from her throat.

People made fun of old Flying Nun/Momma Gump Sally when she stood on the Oscar stage in 1984 and emotionally declared, “… you like me, right now, you like me!”.

SALLY_FIELD

…of course I like you Sally…

Sally blurted out the hidden but truthfully obvious fact that 95% of the actors, directors, camera operators and the general public in the audience just want to be liked, whether on stage acting, or in the everyday trenches of real life.

We want others to like us and to recognize that we are good at something. And a great way to show us that we are lovable and worthwhile is to give us a gold statuette and clap at us while we stand on a stage basking in glory.

It’s no different than when we were little kids and we badgered our Mommies and Daddies to watch us jump into the swimming pool: “Mommy, watch this… Mooooommmmy, WATCH THIS!”

These needs to be loved and admired within most of us are what lead us to push harder and try to be better at something, which feeds into our sense of self-esteem.

Most of the wonderful advances and improvements in our world and society (yeah, a lot of the bad stuff too) came from those who wanted to be recognized as achieving excellence, and hence, received love and admiration from their peers, friends and family, and the world at large. So what’s wrong with that?

The great innovator Steve Jobs loved to wander back and forth on a stage in his black turtleneck sweater, basking in the glory of the spotlights and hordes of admirers before he would utter those famous words, ” Oh, and one more thing…” , just before making a huge i-whatever product announcement.

That was just a grown man standing by the edge of the kiddie pool, yelling, Mommy, watch this…”.

When I crossed the finish line of an Ironman race many many years ago now, would I have experienced the same joy if there was no one there watching? Of course not.

I craved the adoring gush of the throngs of people and my family acknowledging what a wonderful achievement I had accomplished. Mommy would have approved of me and I would have smiled inside.

Ironman 1990

This is one of MY Sally Field moments …

 

There are very few of us who don’t have underlying insecurities, little voices in our head telling us that we need to be better.

Lists and rules offer up handy – and often, admittedly, too facile – solutions to our insecurities.

But they CAN help to give us tools and innovative ways we hadn’t considered to become new and improved.

CREATIVITY CAN BE FOUND IN A LIST

29-ways-to-stay-creative

I choose to look at lists positively. I’m seeking the bravery to push outside my comfort zone, to subdue my insecurity if you will.

If it takes a list of ideas and suggestions from outside, I’ll happily look at it and decide if my choice to create something new for me – within me – is worthwhile.

Creativity doesn’t always have to be newly invented from within. Epiphanies come in lots of costumes. Let’s make like Bonnie and Clyde, like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, like Bernie Madoff, and make off with as many ideas that are offered freely from others as we can.

The choice is ours, steal what looks useful and leave the rest of the dreck behind, like yucky canned peas on a plate of hot, fragrant fish and chips.

Finally, let me offer you one little list I’ve come across. It’s a list for cynics and for those List Haters that I know exist out there who smirk and scowl at us dreamers aka List-Lovers.

FIVE RULES TO REMEMBER IN LIFE

  1. Money cannot buy happiness, but it’s more comfortable to cry in a Range Rover than on a bicycle.
  2. Forgive your enemy, but remember the ass-hole’s name.
  3. If you help someone when they’re in trouble, they will remember you when they’re in trouble again.
  4. Many people are alive only because it’s illegal to shoot them.
  5. Alcohol does not solve any problems, but then neither does milk.

 

TWO GUYS WALK INTO A BAR…

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I want to talk to you this week about insecurities, of which I have a few … but FIRST

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The local YELLOWKNIFER newspaper announced that “Mitzi”, the infamous stripper who could propel ping pong balls from her inner girly works was coming to town.

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I was a young, unattached guy and this was northern excitement at its finest; I would not be denied the thrill of a titillating lifetime.

The only stripper bar I’ve ever been inside in my entire life is in Canada’s Arctic in Yellowknife, NWT. Yellowknife is a small’ish (about 20,000 population today)  northern frontier town famously replete with mosquitoes, blackflies, gold mines (when I lived there in the late 1970’s) and diamond mines (today).

I wandered into the dark, shadowy barroom with an old friend and hospital work colleague Jim Collette.

It was the Gold Range bar, although in Yellowknife it was referred to as a tavern. A nauseatingly strong stench of stale beer and years of accumulated cigarette smoke saturated the walls and air surrounding the dark wooden tables, knife-etched with names and phone numbers of past inebriated patrons.

The_Gold_Range

The Gold Range, affectionately called The Strange Range, was a fusion place for aboriginals, sourdoughs and rough-hewn miners. You could see your life coming to an end at the point of a knife blade or the ragged edge of a broken beer bottle at a place like the Gold Range.

It had a reputation and it wasn’t a good one. It was stereotypical Wild West, or in this case, Wild North.

The people populating this place had names like Stinky Pete, or Dirty Dan. They had long, stringy hair; dirty, frayed baseball caps with names like Weaver & Devore Trading or Giant Mine emblazoned on the front; and multi-hued teeth that hadn’t seen a dentist’s chair in … well, maybe ever! I was feeling pretty jangled and nervous sitting there –  the only reason I stayed was because my horny libidinous heart was quixotically stronger than my frayed nerves or common sense.

The Gold Range was not the natural habitat for this soft, southern boy. Jim and I sat and ordered a Pilsner and Alta 3.9 beer and waited with anticipation for the show to start. When it did begin, it was pretty anti-climatic (sorry, bad pun!). The strippers were mostly a bit older and kind of saggy. It wasn’t the erotic “hit” I was expecting, and the shared experience with a bunch of others was just kind of demeaning to us all. Honestly, I don’t even remember the ping pong ball part of it, just the sordid seediness that left a sour taste.

This is what "Good Girls" do with ping pong balls...

This is what “Good Girls” do with ping pong balls…

OK, you’ve been patient so now I’ll come to the part about my insecurities.

Bars come in classes. I was probably too classy for the Gold Range but not really classy enough for the Horseshoe Lounge at the posh Explorer Hotel; my self-esteem wasn’t sufficiently high to stroll into the Horseshoe Lounge. I’m just a middle class mid-range bar kind of guy I suppose.

My friends and my favourite drinking hangout in Yellowknife was called The Gallery. I would consider it a mid-range bar. It was a wide open well-lit watering hole with a shuffleboard table and a jukebox. The Gallery had no art and no shooting other than the drinks that were fired back in large quantity. They served the best kielbasa in hot dog buns with mustard and relish.

I always hated to enter The Gallery alone. There were those few hesitant, uncomfortable moments where I feared I wouldn’t spot anyone I knew, and everyone else in the bar would know that I was a lonesome loser. I’d stroll in with my eyeglasses all fogged and frozen up from walking off the -40 C streets in January and then try to locate a familiar face either through ice-glazed glasses or furry myopic eyeballs.

Either way, the little voice in my head would be saying, “what are you doing here by yourself, everyone else is with a group and having fun … there must be something wrong with you.

It’s crappy when we’re young and insecure (or worse still, older and insecure) and we worry about every little thing that others might think about us. We want to meld into the mix of others, not stand out as different. Conform or die.

Insecurity doesn’t come from an objective view of our ability but an emotional interpretation. Two people with the same capabilities or attributes can have entirely different levels of insecurity.

Hollywood Insecurity...

Hollywood Insecurity…

I know I’m a capable person on a lot of levels and yet even still I have that worried voice in my head that tells me I could be better or different. Fortunately, the voice has grown far quieter as I grow older, but it still talks to me and tries to bring me down. Rationally I know it’s a liar and a deceiver, but it takes a determined ounce or two of positive counteracting thoughts to stuff it away sometimes.

But you can’t outrun insecurity. A sad matter about Yellowknife was that some people came there for their last stand against inner demons. They were lonely, miserable outcasts who thought that when they came to the Arctic somehow there would be a mystical transformation and everything would be different from their life in the south. They would magically fit in. Rarely happens.

Soon after I arrived to work in Yellowknife, a nice guy named Perry came to work in the housekeeping department at Stanton Yellowknife Hospital. He would stop by as he mopped floors and chat with me every morning about cars and guns and other things that interested him. Perry was about 21 years old and seemed pretty normal by all appearances. Perry was sad and miserable inside, only none of us knew it.

I liked Perry but I never asked him to join in with any of our “professional” group of lab techs, nurses, physiotherapists, in whatever Reindeer Games we were playing. You know, he might not have chosen to come along because he wouldn’t have enjoyed our company, but would it have hurt me to just ask him?

One dark, early winter morning I walked into the Microbiology lab section where I worked and ran into John, the senior housekeeper boss guy.

–Perry killed himself last night, John said.

–Put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger. The RCMP found him in a ditch on the outskirts of town.

I had spoken with Perry in a normal fashion a day earlier and now his demons and insecurities had won the interior argument. Now he was dead, at his own hands. I was stunned. I was ignorant and stunned.

Insecurities come in different layers and different strengths. I try now to look for signs of insecurities in others, not to make myself feel better in comparison (another sign of insecurity), but so that I can understand their struggles with behaviours such as selfishness, arrogance, sulking, gossiping, over-competitiveness, defensiveness, excessive chatter, people-pleasing, excessive swearing. If there’s some small thing that I can do or say that will soothe someone’s negative inner voice, why not? It’s a Pay It Forward kind of thing, I suppose.

Insecurity wears a lot of different costumes.

Slack Alice’s, the local stripper bar in my area burned down about a year ago. And DAMN, I never saw the inside of it. I guess I was just too insecure to go inside on my own!

But I’m sure that every day there was a whole barroom full of strippers and patrons, nursing a beer or shot glass, and each, just like me, with their own beat-up lifetime suitcase filled with personal insecurities.

insecurity suitcase