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Skills = Pleasure

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Skills & Pleasure.

I could be talking sex here… alright… I AM thinking sex here. But I’ll talk about something else, OK?

Guitar, cooking, writing, bartending, tennis, dancing, gardening, chess, biking, languages, investing, birdwatching, chocolate tasting. So many more…

Skills and knowledge; they elevate us and make us more as humans. Our lives are stories, and those areas where we thrive and grow and excel within are those that bring pleasure… and exhilaration to our story.

I crave endorphins. I love the rush, the feeling of ambrosia, beauty inside, excitement. I don’t get it from gambling in casinos, or buying lottery tickets, or injecting heroin.

I get it by doing and learning new skills.

I’m working on one right now that I never knew or even believed existed until recently.

I love playing my songs at Open Mic nights. I was on stage performing 4 songs last night: one I wrote, and one Harry Chapin tune for David because David loves ole Harry.

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My Ole Friend Harry…

Sure, it scares me. Sure, loose bowels, yada yada… but I’m doing something I really really enjoy and it’s an intense learning experience.

I’m studying the art of reading the audience to suss out what works and what doesn’t. Stand-up comedians like Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld do this all the time.

I used to think that playing the guitar reasonably well was my core strength – my manly muscle flex – and the singing part of my performance was something peripheral that folks just had to yawn about and tolerate to make the song complete.

At Open Mic I watch and wonder at Richard K. when he’s on stage. He’s an eccentric. He’s an unabashed performer, a Johnny Winter lookalike with a snowy white mane contrasted against classy black suit jacket and pants.

When Richard sings, he opens his mouth like a ferocious ocean storm, gaping wide and projecting from the calluses of his foot soles. Singing is Richard’s full body workout. It’s mesmerizing to watch as his voice pours out like a lion’s roar. I watch… and learn.

I’ve always regarded my own voice as mundane and choirboy-like, too buttery. I have dances in my dreams of parking some Kenny Rogers gravel or Keith Urban Down-Under twang in my throat.

But I’m finding that more and more often, I get compliments on my singing. Some of it is generous fatuous flattery.

However… lately… I’m coming around to the idea that there may be more to it.

EPIPHANY!

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Now, I’m starting to unbelievably believe that it’s the singing that’s my strength.

Have you ever read or heard about Frank Sinatra, and how he made a song uniquely special with his pacing and delivery of the lyrics? Sinatra wrote the book on musical phrasing.

It didn’t mean anything to me when I heard that.  How could it be? It’s merely words sung to a melody line, right?… simple, straightforward.

But no other popular singer has ever known better the combined value of exacting diction and conversational delivery. No one before Sinatra seemed to know where the deliberate pause would paint the greatest emotional impact.

Sinatra was perhaps an intuitive musician, but he was also, I believe, an analytical, scientific singer too. He knew that to inflect a word or a syllable can shift the rhythm and increase the genuineness of a lyric, and can also wash attention over an especially attractive melodic phrase.

Subtlety. Nuance.

OK, so I’m a convert. Now I evangelize as if I wander the streets passing out Watchtower pamphlets. Hallelujah.

I’ve heard scads of singers who have pleasant voices and can stay on key and – OMG, if you can’t sing on key, please get off the stage and go join Boney M and drag your fingers down someone else’s blackboard – yet don’t understand musical phrasing.

Roberta Flack had phrasing. Freddie Mercury had phrasing. Adele has phrasing in spades… her voice and cadence betrays her frailty and, by extension, her humanity. It’s a skill.

No doubt you can think of a dozen singers that insinuate themselves inside you with the timing and pacing of their approach to lyrics. You may not be aware of the effect, but it happens, trust me.

When I practice a song these days, I’ll play it over and over again, and then once more. Jackson Browne would do this for hours on end when he lived in the basement suite below the Eagles’ Don Henley and Glenn Frey in L.A. years ago.

Each time I play the song I’m working on, for example, the popular song Let Her Go by Passenger, I’ll try out many different interpretations, and work on timing and nuances within the lyric lines.

Eventually, I unearth a pattern that, to me, extracts the most emotional impact from the poetic words and rhythm. Skills and pleasure.

Pleasure Guitar 2

Subtlety. Nuance.

Learning through practice and concentrated effort brings me a feeling of nirvana… satisfaction … and… intense pleasure.

You’ve felt this powerful perception in your world when you put in your best effort and surrendered to the sensation. The soaring awareness of endorphin-packed execution wraps you in a blissful tranquility.

We’re all a complex bundle of simplicity and complexity, perpetually incomplete humans in all areas: physical, spiritual, emotional. Our desires will never be fully answered, nor should they be.

But when I’m always ready to learn a new skill, or improve an old one, I’m once again in my “beginner’s mind”, and like a tiny child, I hold that shiny object over my head, and wonder at all that it holds…

Now that’s pleasure.

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The Art of Focus… Never a Better Time… Pay The Price Now…

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Focus Art

The unthinkable is TRUE… it’s happening…

OMG… you can learn and excel at anything… ANYTHING… you’ve ever dreamed of and not have to leave your home.

You can get the best, most expert, most expensive instruction on:

  • screenwriting
  • acting
  • golfing
  • piano playing
  • knitting and sewing
  • furniture making
  • philosophy
  • bird identification
  • cake decorating
  • Romanian language 
  • basketball layups
  • doing an artfully erotic striptease…

banana-striptease

ANYTHING… it’s all there just waiting for you and me to dive in…

The internet has given me alone tutorials on songwriting, french language skills, grammar and the Oxford comma, concrete finishing, ancient history, beef roast cooking, SQL computer coding, chicken raising, growing better tomatoes, running a faster half marathon (fat chance!), and on and on.

I’ve had James Taylor in my home office patiently instructing me, coaching me on how to do everything from tuning a guitar well to proper picking form in Fire and Rain .

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy will happily come into your home, you don’t even have to offer them a cup of tea, and give you driving instructions.

……………….

To be deeply philosophical about it, or more likely just to fool you into believing that I’m smart or something… all of the atoms in the universe have been cycled and recycled, combined and recombined over millions and billions of years, and somehow, by fate or whatever, you and I were fabricated from a mere dusting of these fragments and particles.

It’s a miracle really; a miracle that justifies something great and noteworthy, don’t you think?

But dear friend… it’s the best of times and… it’s the worst of times.

Because there are so many distractions, maybe fewer of us than ever are actually doing these amazing, diverse things… or at least doing them well. Good morning, this is your wake-up call...

I’ve struggled mightily all my life with mediocrity – boo hoo, poor entitled lad – you know… Jack of All Trades, Master of None.  

For the most part I’ve actually happily embraced being so-so at almost everything I do, rationalizing that because I do a bucketload of varied things with my time, that I can ditch the worry about doing anything really well.

CHANGE.

My thinking has and is changing … let’s see, my fellow Canadian JT (Justin Trudeau) has changed his thinking on electoral reform, and even Donald Trump has changed his thinking on China as a currency manipulator.

So maybe, just maybe, it’s OK for Larry Green to change his thinking on mediocrity in every area of his life (hmmmm, talking about yourself in the third person is a sign of encroaching narcissism, I’d better look up some remedial therapy courses online).

To be good or great, you have to hone the skills, spend the 1,000 hours… the 10,000 hours to become “special”.

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I’ve talked about this before, and I hate to be a nag, but in a world that makes learning so easy, and concentrated focus so challenging, it bears repeating.

When I – drooling over sexy music porn – watch Tommy Emmanuelle or Keith Urban play their guitar, the first thought that passes through my brain like a crawler at the bottom of the news channel screen, is, “I could never do that“.

WRONG… they became that good by… practice… practice… and more practice.

Your wise old Mom was right when she told you to sit at the piano bench, practicing your lessons for a half hour every day.

I, and similarly, you, have the ability if we’re willing to pay the price.

If I’m willing to commit hours, months, and years, I can do it.

It’s about committing to something you enjoy tremendously and making the effort, the hard, concentrated effort, to learn and progress and accept the difficulties and failures that come with slow, uneven progress.

It’s about The Art of Focus.

It’s about a willingness to say NO more often, no to the distractions and outside influences, and sitting yourself down to do the hard, often lonely, but ultimately pleasurable work of making something magical within yourself.

It’s about the inner feeling of goodness and creative spark that comes with a pat-yourself-on-the-back sense of mastery.

This beautiful blue planet we inhabit for such a painfully short time has evolved over millions of years to the point where, today, most of us rarely fear for our mortal lives or tremble about starvation, where crippling diseases are at a lesser tide than any time in history, where work days usually conclude after 8 or 10 hours, and weekends are for our own pleasure.

We’ve come to bat at the sweet spot in time and circumstance. HOME RUN territory.

I’ll cock my head, glance up into the bright sunshine, scratch some fine dirt beneath my cleats and rub my crotch for good luck.

The once almost unthinkable moment has arrived and you and I can decide for ourselves if these moments we’re allotted are meant for watching the world happen to us, or we happen to the world.

The internet gives us the gift of choice where we can be sucked into an intoxicating whirlpool of dullness, and a diet of artificial Twinkies, or… a tsunami of wonder and a dramatic reaching for the elegant twinkling of the stars.

Grammatically, an incomplete sentence is one where either a subject (YOU) or a verb (YOU doing something) is missing.

Every complete sentence has a subject (YOU) and a verb (YOU doing something).

YOU doing something is a complete sentence in a life fully lived.

You guessed it. I learned that from a grammar lesson I took online…

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Don’t write what you know, write what fascinates you… and 21 more brilliant things I’ve Learned…

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22 Things I’ve Learned Since I Began Blogging…

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After writing 236 blog posts, I figure I’ve learned one or two things along this joyous journey, some about writing a blog and a few others about living a fuller life.

I’ll share a few of these with you and then you can add on the hundred or more that you figure I should have learned, right?

  1. Creativity isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. Treat your creative force as an action to be developed and actively teased into the open. The creative spark isn’t something that’s given to us like a Christmas gift, wrapped in neat bows and ribbons and cantookles and sneedles. One form of Boot Camp works the body muscle … another form involves the inner imagination muscle.
  2. Writer’s block is a fiction story. Persistence in writing something… anything… blasts away block walls like sugar infusions beat back the Marathon runner’s WALL. I’m a perpetual work in progress and really need to heed this lesson in my songwriting.
  3. I write about the fabric I know mostly, but I also try to write about stuff that is new to me so that I can learn while I write. Constantly learning anew gifts us deeper breaths and enthusiastic heartbeats.
  4. Polls cannot be relied on as truth. People lie and hide their occult souls from pollsters.
  5. We’ll never know the full capacity of our brain and its power to reason and formulate idea sex. There is no human mystery greater than the inner intricacy that lies between our ears (the second greatest mystery is the bewildering and seductive complexity that lies between our legs! We’ll never understand that one either)
  6. Beautiful music is a loving muse that brings forth beautifully elegant words in writing. Listening to music I love invites novel metaphors and descriptive adjectives that lie hidden in the forest.
  7. Listening to the real message in what people say is far more interesting than the obvious, surface stuff. Writing is all about observing deeply and closely, whether in a person’s spoken words or in the moody cloud layers bear-hugging the November hillsides or the serpentine striations in the bark of a Ponderosa Pine tree.
  8. It’s far better to Yoda try and fail than to fail to try in fear of what might go wrong. Theodore Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds should have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” 
  9. The 1,000 hour or the 10,000 hour rule of practice really does pay dividends. I’m a lazy sort who like to gloss over the hard stuff. Both my writing and my guitar playing are significantly improved with consistent day-in-day-out concentrated effort. I wish I had taken this concept to heart while studying piano as a kid. So, how lazy am I? I began this blog post with the idea that I’d write 33 things I’ve learned. That’s how lazy!
  10. Women are generally much better managers of important stuff like families and organizations and governments. Testosterone is a bombastic nuclear weapon in a 21st century world, a world that performs better with more resilient pillow fights and fewer knife brawls.
  11. None of us really understands anyone else‘s difficulties or challenges until we’ve shared their experiences. “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked in his moccasins.”
  12. Leave the ambiguous, uncertain words out of writing. Either state an opinion or don’t. I’m pretty sure this is usually important or … just maybe it’s not. Wrong. 
  13. Children thrive on stories. Adults are much the same. This goes to the heart of the writing concept “Show, Don’t Tell“. People are far more intrigued by a point illustrated through an anecdote or story than they are by being told directly. We all love stories. When I gaze at a canvas of visual art, I look for the story the painting tells me. Stories are our comfort food.
  14. Pancakes are the perfect breakfast food. Hot, fragrant, mobile-if-necessary, sweet or savoury, all 4 (5 if you count chocolate as I do) food groups in a perfect circular package of yumminess.
  15. Blog titles that include the word “sex” or a sex-related term will ALWAYS get more readership. It’s too easy really. It’s like answering poll questions. We don’t reveal the true nature of our hormonally bawdy thoughts publically, but privately, the carnal rivers never stop flowing.
  16. The stocks I sell today are the ones guaranteed to double in share price in a week or two. This goes along in tandem with the dollar rising or falling sharply in reverse harmony to what I’ve predicted when someone asks me for advice in making a financial decision. Be warned: If I boldly predict one thing, run full out in the other direction. Take that to the bank!
  17. The terms MAN and WOMAN cover a broadly huge scope of gender identity. Our world is a nuanced place and masculinity and femininity are part of the 50 shades domain. Every aspect of gender identity deserves to be respected.
  18. Life is far too short to hang out in the company of compulsive negativity and naysayers. Keep the smilers and positives at your side and the sun will always be warming your insides like hot chocolate.
  19. Fiction books are amazing things. I used to be very pragmatic and believed I could only learn from non-fiction. WRONG! Quality fiction (like 50 Shades of Grey… NOT!) informs us about history, humanity, ourselves, in a constellation of ways we don’t always understand. See point #13.
  20. The older you get, the faster time flows past. I began my formative period with a thick mane of 70’s style dark hair where days passed as if in a horse-drawn surrey… that’s transformed itself into a follicularly challenged salt-and-pepper-fringe-on-the-top Ferrari Formula One racing car. Where the hell is the brake on this aging sucker?
  21. Write in very short paragraphs. People are intimidated by reading long diatribes of information in huge long chunks. Break it up so that it is far less fearsome to the sight. In today’s world, folks listen to musical songs that tend to last 3-5 minutes, not 20 minute symphonies . We absorb in small chunks. It’s who we are in 2016.
  22.  Everybody has a story. Good and bad. Everybody. That person who’s life looks so perfect. The one with the big house or the one who pushes a wobbly grocery cart down the street. They’ve got a story. Everyone needs compassion in some form. Everyone has compassion to give.

rich-and-poor

2015 The Year To Be Great – Part 2, The Sequel

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Some days I feel a bit low and there doesn’t seem to be any explanation.

Gun Man

That is, until I look more closely inside myself and realize that the get-up-and-go-gun isn’t loaded.

What good is a gun without fire power?

Actually, as a peaceful kind of guy, I could debate this with myself, but let’s not go there today, OK?  When my gun is unable to blast away I know I’m lacking gunpowder – a fervent feeling, a drive of passion.

I love passion in all its forms.

Passion is what makes me – like my investing guru Warren Buffett – tap dance on the sidewalk with glorious abandon …

Give Me PURPOSE! Give Me GOALS!

NOW I have a Loaded Gun!

I am rarely happier than when I’m working and playing with purpose.

Give me a road to travel on and headlights to show me where I’m headed, and I’ll have a smile on my face. But it’s up to me to make the power to run those headlights.

That’s what makes this such a great virtuous circle … I feed power to the headlights with goals that give me purpose and passion –  and the purpose and passion light the way forwards towards achieving my goals.

PRESTO … I’m on a supercharged highway with great spin-off effects … an autobahn with no speed limits …

Examples of how this might play out:

  • a 10k running race event in May gives me the initiative to work out and train hard for 4 months leading up to it … A strong, healthy body is a side effect of reaching my goal.
  • I sign on to perform 2 songs at a local summer festival … so I practice and write music until it all sits comfortably inside my muscle memory so that when I get on stage, when the nerves rise up, the music is there inside me even if my head is too jangled to realize it.
  • I listen to people speak and really listen and praise them for the little things they do right (we all have some things we do right) … it makes them feel good about themselves and this makes me feel good about myself … another virtuous circle in action. Our relationships with others are always better, stronger if we take the time to make the other guy/gal feel good about themselves, rather than knocking them down with a competitive response… “oh sure, I did that a long time ago, what took you so long?”

My blog post last week spoke of what happened in 2014 … now it’s time to look forward and plan … after all, you do know that “those who fail to plan, plan to fail“… sorry, I swear I’ll lose kitschy cliches in 2015!

So, does 2015 have a THEME? Hmmmm, what would my theme be?

2015 The Year of Simplify

Rock in stream

SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY. SIMPLIFY. Sometimes, I try to take on too many goals and I lose focus and concentration. This year I think I’ll choose fewer goals and work harder to make each of them happen.

……………………….

2015 GOALS

BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and LFEG’s (Little Fuzzy Everyday Goals)

1. PHYSICAL/HEALTH

a) Climb Mount EverestHaaa, not quite what you’re thinking, although I like that idea too.

No, this Mount Everest is a cumulative hill climb that equates to the distance needed to surmount the king of Mountains. Mount Everest is what? … let’s Google this… 8,848 metres (or 29,029 feet) high.

My local Summerland “mountain” called Giant’s Head is 296 metres in height from the lower parking lot to the summit overlooking the picturesque Okanagan Valley.

I’ll have to summit Giant’s Head 30 times in 2015 to make the equivalent climb to the tip of Mount Everest. That means a weekly average of 2 climbs bottom to top and I can plant a flag at the top of Mount Everest. My friends Jennifer and Pam are taking this challenge on too which will give us all some motivation.

I think this is going to be a stretch challenge … I like stretch challenges!!

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Peak of Giant’s Head… er… my Mount Everest…

 

b) Run 2 Half Marathonsjust like last year, 2 half-marathons will be my “big” running events for the year. I’ll probably throw in a few 10k and 5 k events too, but they will be the little siblings to the main objective of running 21 k in the half-marathon event. Usually I set time goals eg. sub 2- hours for these, but as I age and become more … let’s say “mature”… I’m going to simplify and relax and make completion of these runs, regardless of time, my HAPPY PLACE.

2. CHARITABLE

a) 10% Charitable boost – adding 10% to my monthly automatic charity contributions is a great goal because it requires next to no sacrifice or sweat. Two phone calls (hang on a second … there … done!!) and the year’s objective has been met.

b) Volunteer Time – In the past few months I’ve begun volunteering some time at the local soup kitchen, and assembling Christmas hampers at the Salvation Army – my goal here is simple (see? Simplify!)… keep on keeping on. Chopping vegetables and making sandwiches a couple of days a month is fun for me (I love to cook) and there’s a warm and fuzzy factor that settles in when I survey the tables of folks chatting and enjoying a steaming bowl of soup. The downside (there’s ALWAYS a downside) … these poor unfortunates have to eat MY cooking!

3. WRITING

a) 50 Additional Blog Posts + 75 views/day on blog – Writing blogs is my therapy and my routine. In this post-paid-work world I now inhabit, there’s a big need for day markers and deadlines, otherwise couch-dom and sloth become my best friends (well alright, La-Z-Boy is already my best friend). But I’m not just physically lazy, my mind needs the push of writing blog entries to keep it fine-tuned like a Maserati that just happens to motor along more like a Rent-A-Wreck version otherwise …

2014 brought an average of about 54 views to this blog each day. My fragile male ego would be really swollen in gratitude if enough new folks came along to bring this to 75 daily.

4.  MUSICAL 

a) Purchase 12-string guitar this carryover from last year will be looked after soon dear friends, I promise. I’ve done most of my homework, now I’ll only need to haggle for price and terms eg. does it come with guarantees of perpetually perfect tuning (after all, 12 strings is a lot to keep tuned, right?)?

WAIT... I said a Taylor 12-String Guitar... not a Taylor Swift guitar!

WAIT… I said a Taylor 12-String Guitar… not a Taylor Swift guitar!

b) Build A Guitar – This is a brand new idea that powered its way into my head this past year. There are a number of places worldwide that offer the opportunity to build your very own guitar over a 2- to 4-week period with lots of instruction and expert guidance. What could be cooler than to craft your own musical instrument and add Luthier (no, not LOSER!) to your resume?

c) Write more Songs and perform original songs publically. I hesitate to give a number as far as writing my own songs goes (SIMPLIFY), but I know I have momentum pushing me in the right direction. So rather than choose a number of songs to write as a goal, I want to press myself to make the pieces as high a quality as I can manage … great, meaningful lyrics enshrouded in wonderful, harmony-laced melodies with a fantastic chorus that draws one in and sets the happy or melancholy emotions aflame.

Stepping further into the musical abyss, beyond the writing lays the performing side. Here I’ll need to kick myself in whatever direction gives me an opportunity to throw myself at the public audience.

5. TRAVEL 

a) Visit New-To-Me Central American country – learning and improving Spanish has been on my agenda for about 5 years now (hence “school” trips to Peru, Spain, Cuba). But we’ve never touched ground in any of the Central American countries, so this is the year to say HOLA to one of Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, or Guatemala.

b) American States? I think I’ve managed a visit to about 26 states of the little country to the south. I’m barely past the halfway point of my goal to see ’em all, which means I’ll have to live to … oh, about 110 years old at this pace. I’d better find a way to get my puny Canuck ass into another state or two. Maybe a visit to those old carved Presidential dudes on Mt. Rushmore is in order, or a whirlwind tour of  tornado alley to catch up on Dorothy and Toto.

6. FINANCIAL

a) 15% returnI spent the first 30+ years of my working life saving and accumulating a financial base. Now it’s time for that base to pull its weight. Slavery has found a home in my investment account.

I can live indefinitely with about a 7% average annual return, but I enjoy the research and stimulation of investing, so why not be entertained and make a few bucks along the way. Besides, the better investor I am, the more I can drop into my charitable contributions bucket. I’d call that a WIN-WIN…

My investing hero...Warren Buffett... hey, wasn't he in the movie "UP"?

My investing hero…Warren Buffett… hey, wasn’t he in the movie “UP”?

My 5-year average annual return is looking a bit light of my 15% goal at 12.2%.  Intriguingly, my 10-year average is now identical at 12.2% also.

Despite a bit of underachievement here, these numbers don’t make me unhappy. After all, the 10-year record includes a pretty precipitous drop in 2008. But I’m thinking that as I get older and wiser, maybe I should be capable of bringing that average up a bit without bumping up the risk levels.

So… help me out here please, OK? Perhaps if each of you could buy just a few more APPLE products and drop by MCDONALD’S for the occasional BIG MAC while making sure to chat/text with your friends on your BELL CANADA cellphone? Am I asking too much?

8. FOOD & EATING

a) Study Cooking for One Day in any Travel Destination – I’ll make reasonable attempts to catch at least one day of cooking classes on local cuisine for any locale to which I travel. Last year was TAJINE in Morocco… maybe this year, GALLO PINTO in Nicaragua.

c. 2013 www.GretchenAlms.com

b) Develop a Repertoire of Egg Recipes – the chicken palace under construction in my backyard should be finished by early spring. This means an abundance of fresh eggs by summertime. I’ll want to get innovative and creative and ply friends and relatives with fabulous frittatas and Green Huevos Rancheros and Ham.

……………………..

Look Into Your Crystal Ball and Read the Tea Leaves of Your Tarot Cards (huh?)

In 2015 I’m trying to release any pretensions of perfection as part of my SIMPLIFY theme. And it truly is pretension – I’ve never approached perfection in any segment of my life. I discussed my simple thoughts for this in an earlier post about my 1,000 hour rule.

This life “thing” is fascinating. Each year I find out something new about myself as bits of inner flotsam are released and rise to the surface where I can see them. This is one of the very cool things about aging – and aging is a concept and process I struggle against. One of these years I’ll likely have an epiphany and gracefully accept the creaking ship that is life.

But for now, I’ll be who and what I am and run madly off in all directions in search of adventure in all its forms.

Adventures that come in physical form such as building things, cooking things – maybe even skydiving – and also mental adventures in the form of ideas. There are a ton of great ideas out there that set my heart and mind on fire just waiting to be plucked and mated via idea sex.

I’m seeking a simple, balanced life that accommodates an ADHD kind of personality like mine.

So … simply tomorrow … take in a boot camp class but not snack (physical), write a thank you email to my sister for her Christmas gift (emotional), come up with 10 ideas for future blog posts or songs (mental), spend 10 minutes in meditation feeling grateful (spiritual).

Load up your gun with all of the passion and goals you can muster and let’s head into 2015 together, OK?

 There are worse ways to start …

… or finish … a New Year. 

2015 goals

BITCHES Have All the Answers …

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Driving along the Penticton beach strip, I looked out at the dark, foreboding, icicle-cold water of Okanagan Lake.

Just a few months ago, I had swum across this lake on a bright and balmy summer morning – my annual 2.6K cross-lake paddle with my amiga de swimming Jennifer.

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Today, it wasn’t really all that cold outside, maybe slightly above the freezing point, but the dusky colour of the lake and the sombre grey sky gave the impression of an Arctic-frigid kind of day.

I felt a little chill run through me as I gazed out at the small ripples on the water. Even the stately, visiting Trumpeter Swans looked shivery bobbing out there.

Motoring along just in front of me was a big, dark-toned pickup truck, the kind driven by men with tattoos that cover their entire meaty arms and shotguns in the back window.

A large black dog with a sleek, shiny coat of fur was zig-zagging across the box in the back of the truck … one side, then the other, then the other, over and over again. It was hypnotic the way she floated like a pendulum back and forth, back and forth.

Just so you know – and I know I shouldn’t make snap judgments – I’m calling the pup SHE because her owner probably likes the idea of owning a bitch.

(Aside: It’s illegal to carry untethered dogs in the back of your truck in B.C. but I don’t think doggy knew she was at risk of being jailed. She maybe even smokes forbidden pot without realizing this isn’t Washington State or Colorado… some dogs can be so nonchalant.)

Black Dog in Pickup

Anyway, I wondered.

What was this dog thinking?

Was she taking stock of her situation just for the moment at hand, or was she trying to determine if this was the life she really wanted to lead?

Searching for life’s key, she flashed a thoughtful look out in all directions, imploring, begging for the answer to find a windy pathway into her nose where she could digest its meaning.

Did this canine have a secret, a secret that I should know?

Of course. Right then, I knew the black doggy had the right approach. She was actively absorbing and questioning her life’s choices and taking stock.

If she could be so perceptive and insightful, it seemed only right that I should do the same.

But. When is the right time to take stock of your life?

Should we even try to take stock of our lives?

Should we spend those Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours to think, become curious and become masters of our own lives?

Pssst… Let me share a small secret with you.

The laws of biology dictate that our “life road” will come to a dead end at some point.

Turbulent but brilliant Steve Jobs knew that when he spoke at the 2005 Stanford University Commencement ceremony:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Steve Jobs Candle

Absorbing this important message, taking stock isn’t something we should wait until later in our lives to contemplate, is it?

When we’re driving to work, when we’re relaxing by the fire in the evening, when we’re running or knitting, or having sex – no, forget that last one – those are the times to ask ourselves if all is settled and as it should be, or are changes needed. Asking the question:

Am I living the life I thought I’d lead when, in Grade 11 Math Class, I dreamed of the future instead of listening to Mr. Warneke?”

Today, just like Steve Jobs said, I’m in the process of becoming naked.

Just like the black dog in the truck. Naked.

My young adult kids think I’m way too undressed already, and maybe they’re right. But I don’t think so.

I think they’re young like I was just a few … weeks ago. The wisdom of roaming the earth in metaphorical nakedness is something that grows cunningly inside as our hair grows grey on the outside.

Maybe someone should be really taking stock of their life choices...

Maybe someone should be really taking stock of their life choices…

Becoming who we want rather than what our friends and family and media tell us to be is a huge courageous step forward. Taking stock and being honest to ourselves can be slow, it can be difficult, maybe even painful.

There are still some parts of myself that I can’t bring myself to share with the world because of my pride and fear of embarrassment.

I’m not fully naked and I probably never will be. But there are fewer and fewer secret coves that I’m protecting, and it feels good to let go of my pride.

Taking the time to look out the window. To think. To digest the robin or chickadee songs, the views of luscious green hillsides, breathing and smelling the lilac in the air, tasting a bit of sandy grit in my teeth as dust swirls when a truck passes is useless dreck.

Maybe that’s just stuff to be ignored. Maybe. But I don’t think so.

I have less and less to lose and I have a black dog to thank for reminding me that I don’t have to hide the parts of me that used to scare me. It’s a risk that’s worth taking.

Taking stock of where I am and where I’m going is a sign of strength. I love that feeling of risk and fear.

The rush.

Like the carriage return when I hit the Publish button.

Click.

Welcome to #50!

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Just yesterday I was 16 years old and driving my barely-running 1967 brown Rambler American to flip burgers at McDonalds in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Today I woke up in my barely-running 1957 body in Summerland, B.C., Canada.

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1967 Rambler American

Mine was the 4-door model on the bottom, picture it in brown…

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And yesterday, I wrote my first blog post about Women and Menopause. Today, this is blog post #50 for me. Yep, it’s true.

So on this day, a few disconnected, rambling, maybe incoherent thoughts as I hear Paul Simon singing to me… Still Crazy After All These Years?

Men are STILL from Mars and Women are STILL from Venus

Last June I started sharing my perspectives on many areas but primarily focussed on the lively and mysterious dance that occurs between women and men. All from THIS middle-aged crazy man’s biased and personal perspective. I’ve tried to be as honest and freewheeling as I can be without bruising anyone.

We all have thoughts that have the potential to hurt others. I want to be as open as my book can be while steering clear of saying something that might wound any one individual. I want to tell you that the Emperor (even if the Emperor happens to be me) isn’t wearing clothes, but I don’t want to tell you that YOU’RE not wearing clothes…get my point?

We’re all bobbing icebergs in life’s ocean swells who only show a portion of ourselves to the outer world. We want to be unique and individual while still knowing that we’re not alone or weird. There’s comfort when we realize that others bleed and cry and have fears and dreams, especially when those parts of ourselves aren’t publicly shared because we fear the opinions of others.

Despite what has been declared in recent press and research, I firmly camp myself in the belief that men and women have some very fundamental differences. Much of what distinguishes and attracts men to women and women to men are the opposing poles of personality, outlook, approach to life, and belief.

It’s not just what lies buried behind our Levi’s zippers that makes us different.

These differences can elicit huge issues of anger and resentment, as well as harmony and contentment. But it’s also what draws us together.

There is deep-rooted appeal of men for women and vice versa…no matter how many of our friends and relatives we discover to be attracted to the same gender, gayness/gayosity/gayificness isn’t going to ever dominate our world as the relationship of the majority.

It’s the oppositeness of the other gender that appeals for most…I like the fact that women are more communicative and expressive, I like that women are more sensitive and empathetic, I especially like it that women smell better than men. I don’t understand a lot of things about women… hell, this may actually be the meaning of MY life in a nutshell.

Women smell better

Things I’ve learned from writing these 50 blogs:

  • Creative ideas eg. music, writing, drawing – thrive in silence and solitude. Too much activity and background noise = stunted subconscious thought. A mind constantly bombarded by input doesn’t have the space to draw its own extraordinary net of ideas.
  • Sleep helps lots. Idea sex happens best in bed just like the other kind of sex (although some may argue this last point!). That old subconscious plods through the murk and muddied confusion and finds clarity and union of the seemingly jumbled while we slumber.

Idea sex?

  • Ideas and creativity don’t just happen by hoping and wishing. I have to sit down and make it happen, preferably at my personal daily peak-energy time (for me, early morning), regardless of my energy levels or feelings of inspiration. Sometimes, it flows smoothly and rich like hot, espresso coffee, and other times drips bit by painful bit like refrigerated Heinz ketchup. No matter, eventually a trickle happens, but only if I stay at it.
  • Live like everyday is MY last? …This doesn’t quite work to keep me inspired. I prefer to want to live as if everyone I know and meet were going to die that day. Would I speak badly of them? Would my eyes go glassy when they tell me about their concerns or joys? I feel warmer towards my fellow travellers if I think they’ll be cold and 6 feet under tomorrow.

Further…I LOVE to Learn

  • There is an amazing website called COURSERA that offers tons of online courses from 33 universities around the world. TOTALLY FREE! Right now, I’m studying Songwriting from Berklee College of Music in Boston. Technology has brought education into our homes from across the globe. Prepare to be inundated by bad songs I’ll be uploading to YouTube any day now!
  • I’ve loved languages since forever. Now that I’m older with fewer day-to-day responsibilities, I’m able to pursue my passions. My wife and I have travelled to Cusco, Peru…Havana, Cuba… and Barcelona, Spain, to spend time in classrooms learning Spanish. Connecting with people from a bunch of countries while absorbing the local Spanish culture has been an experiencia fantastica. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a drink of fluorescent yellow Inca Kola while eating guinea pig in Cusco!

Inca Kola

  • My Martin DX1AE guitar is one of my best friends. Playing music has been my comfort-blanket for years and years. Various internet websites and YouTube have given me the means to learn techniques and styles of playing that I could only have dreamed of 20 years ago. My favourite site right now? James Taylor guitar lessons. He even tells me how to give myself Fake Nails for picking…now there’s value!
  • Money may not buy happiness, but I sure don’t think any of us has to live in squalor to feel fulfilled. I haven’t earned an investment banker livelihood from my career. But thanks to great investing mentors like Peter Lynch and Warren Buffett, I’ve been able to live a notch or two higher than I might otherwise. A lifetime of great investment advice can be had in the annual letters at 85 year old Warren Buffett’s company website, Berkshire Hathaway. Get entertained and educated by the greatest investor of the past 100 years…once again, it’s totally free.

I’m so lucky to live this life in this time.

I have enough free time not having to kill my dinner  (or my neighbour!) that I can sit and write a blog.

Human history is a chuckwagon overloaded to the ground with violence and poverty and disease. I live in a world where sort-of-average people can concentrate their efforts on lip-swelling enhancements, butt lifts, and tooth veneers as well as Gucci handbags and truffle oil and champagne. Signs of the coming apocalypse?…well, that remains to be seen. No guarantees are on offer here!

So, thanks for joining me in the first 50 blog posts. And thank you for your messages and e-mails that encourage me far too much.

I’m aiming for 100, and that may be years and not a blog count.

I’m a work-in-progress…but aren’t we all?…

50th cake

8 LARRY’isms

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I’m not the only one who makes mistakes!

I’ve spent a lifetime making mistakes…hell, I almost killed a baby during my lab training with a simple math error. I’ve hurt people with dumb things I’ve said. I lost a whack of money investing in a publicly-traded company that turned out to be a front for Russian money laundering. I’ve spit cherry pits out the window of a speeding car and had them fly back in my face!

But I’ve learned a lot because of my mistakes and I’ve tried to take something positive away from my gaffs, which leads me to… Not so long ago, a good friend from my childhood (thanks Denise) replied in an e-mail that something I had said sounded just like a “LARRY’ism“.

I liked the ring of that…LARRY’ism!

And it struck me…sure, there are some things that drill into my core and are a part of who I am and what I believe..things I’ve learned through my errors. I have LARRY‘isms and I didn’t even really realize it until she told me.

We all have LARRY‘isms …of course, yours are called MARGARET‘isms or DAVID‘isms or BILBO‘isms. These are the parts of you that make up your identity, an individual, a real person.

Some would call them principles…others a belief system…others just simply a way to live.

Because this is my blog, I get to tell you what some of my strongly held tenets are…there are more than 8 but we’ll get a good start here, right?!

I’d love to hear some of yours so please SHARE.

8 LARRY’isms

If it’s important, bore in, focus, and make it happen…

  • FOCUS- Unexplainable things appear from the ether when you set your lasers onto accomplishing something. Putting aside the distractions that are everywhere and focusing your mind makes you into a magician of the truest order.

Multi-tasking is a wonderful talent, but when you really want to accomplish something important to you…it’s all about FOCUS. I can’t read Facebook, scan a novel, check e-mails, and write a great song all at the same time (but I try!). Which is the most important to my contentment over time?—the song—so concentrate my mind and energy on creation.

Just one example: I was involved in a lab conference a few years back and was responsible for lining up exhibitors and sponsors. I determined that I would outpace anything done in recent history by selling more exhibitor booths and more sponsorships than ever before. I spent a lot of time on the phone. I sent out a ton of e-mails. I made the pitch about how much the company would have to gain. Did I make a sale every time…NOPE! I made hundreds of phone calls and ended up in a lot of dead-ends. But I did reach my goals (actually, exceeded) and despite the naysayers who said it couldn’t be done…it happened!

No special talent involved. Just focus and determination.

  • BUT SEE THE FOREST TOO- focusing on one thing for too long (ie. months, years) seizes your ability to see how one thing impacts another. Everything we do has a ripple effect…so we have to make sure the ripples create a great wave we can surf on and not a tsunami that destroys all around it. Don’t forget the other significant things around you…family, friends, exercise. Be a complete YOU!
  • INTENSITY- kind of like focus, but really it’s about pressing hard and making things happen. This can refer to mental intensity, using perseverance to stick things through when the going gets tough. Physical intensity brings your body and muscles to a point of strain and pain that when you can deal with it in a healthy, non-injurious way, will take you to a higher level than you would think is possible. Intensity lets you accomplish things quickly and that sets up a great feedback loop of positive inner feelings, and often muscle and speed too. I run some intensely hard interval runs in my marathon training because it makes me faster…but it’s tough stuff, and it hurts.

This is a work in progress for me… mental strength is a key component and I fall short sometimes.

Don’t let negativity around you sap your energy…surround yourself with enthusiasts.

  • POSITIVE PEOPLE- we all have our incredibly bad moments, sometimes lasting hours or days. Life is often tough and trying and painful, full of bruises and bleeding. But there are just some people who can’t find the silver lining in even the best things that happen to them. But then there are others who can find a nugget of happiness in a pile of stinking, fetid garbage and rise above the despair they feel.

This is the person I aspire to be, and the type of person I like to be around.

In my bad moments they lift me back out of the goo, and in the great moments, they make the sun shine even brighter and help to make me a better, more positive person.

  • GROWTH- the feeling that you have learned or accomplished something is a better high than most drugs or alcohol I’ve tried (of course I haven’t yet tried the full gamut!). Humankind has become what it has – both positive AND negative I suppose– because we’ve learned and we’ve learned and we’ve learned some more.  The house I live in, the food I eat, the people who love me and I love back are here because I’ve learned and grown and that allows me to function and thrive in the world surrounding me. I wouldn’t be doing the job I do with databases if I hadn’t learned how to operate and understand the software that makes it all possible.

I learned, I grew, I prospered. Direct connections to a pretty good life.

  • SELF-DISCIPLINE- I often hear the phrase, “Live for today, for who knows what tomorrow will bring“. It sounds like a wonderful, and sublime piece of advice. And there is a germ of truth in it, but only a germ.

People buy into it because it is easy and because they rationalize the things they want to own or like to do now.

-I will live for today, so I’ll buy a yacht.

You’ve actually made a decision about tomorrow in terms of payments you’ll have to make, or lost income opportunity from the money you’ve paid. And if you’re gone tomorrow, your estate and your heirs will have to make good on the debt owing.

I don’t want to delay everything that makes life enjoyable and desirable to some future time that all the stars align and perfection exists. I can’t change the past. It’s done. But I can affect the future and one of the best ways I know is with self-discipline. I can enjoy some things today, and others I can derive delayed gratification from holding off until later. WAIT and I enjoy it more.

If I want to retire at 55, I need the self-discipline to save 10% of my income for years and years ahead. Spend it all today and it’s three squares a day of Puppy Chow when I’m 75!

Self-discipline can be HARD…that’s why the word discipline is in there!

The easy choice is not always the best one!

  • GIVE LOVE AND PRAISE– everyone thrives on being told or shown that they are loveable. And everyone loves to be honestly told that they’ve done something well. Most people I think, are stingy with their compliments because they feel it somehow lessens their value when in fact it is just the opposite.

Applauding another is a gift that costs nothing and gives something to both you and the recipient. I’m not talking only about praising children. Congratulate your neighbour for a great job of painting his house…praise your co-worker for staying 10 minutes after hours to help you get things cleaned up…gush over the restaurant server who brought you an extra plate unasked to share your piece of pie with a friend. The joy you give someone in praise, reflects right back at you for a long time after.

IS that eight? Ooops, one short. It’s not actually a LARRY‘ism but it is something that I really like about waking up on a brilliant spring day.

  • SUNSHINE– it just gets so hard to feel sad or bad when the sun is warm and shining. Sunshine is like having that positive person around you that I’m talking about above. Sun casts a shadow and obliterates despair or disappointment. Maybe it’s because I have seasonal affective disorder or something, but sun rays melt away gloom almost as good as butterscotch ice cream, my favourite…ALMOST!

Well, I’m sure I’ve made a spelling mistake or grammatical error in my writing today. Or worse still, an error in logic or judgment, so hopefully it will be pointed out to me and I’ll learn and grow. But for now, it’s a gorgeously sunny day. This Larry is heading outside to get in a hard run and some Vitamin D!

I’ll run hard…just not THAT hard!