Resilience

My dad turned 79 years old yesterday, which is pretty remarkable. There’s not much more that can go wrong with his body; at this point in his life, he’s all bones and gristle. He’s had multiple bypasses, half a lung gone from cigarettes, a couple fused vertebrae, stomach surgery, hiatus hernia surgery, rotator cuff surgery and a stroke, but he keeps on going.

He’s still living in the my maternal grandparent’s farmhouse on 10 acres south of Moose Jaw and he’s planting his usual 1/2 acre vegetable garden this year. (He doesn’t eat vegetables other than potatoes but loves to grow them all.) His only compromise to age is the rows get a little further apart, so he can better see the plants from the weeds. The stroke messed his eyesight up a bit.

My buddy Giacomo and I went out to see dad last week. Giacomo bought an old Chevy camper van last year for his cross Canada adventure this summer and stored it in dad’s Quonset for the winter. He and his partner Martina, who are immigrating to Canada from Italy, are selling everything they own and driving coast to coast this summer. They want to see as much of their new country as possible before deciding where to settle down. With the weather warming up he’s excited to get the van packed and hit the road right after Easter.

So we drove out to Moose Jaw and I did my best to give Jack a minor history lesson about all the times Saskatchewan got settled and what the Hudson Bay Company was all about and why he should check out Batoche and learn about the Riel Rebellion and what’s Treaty 4 and why we talk about it now when we never did when I was a kid. Lest he think Saskatchewan wasn’t as interesting as Tofino or Cape Breton.

When we got to the farm, dad showed Jack his arrowhead collection before we went out and started up the van. Dad was complaining about his shoulder though (the one with the rotator cuff surgery,) which hasn’t been the same since his neighbour’s cow yanked on it a couple of years back. It was causing him a lot of pain from mounting the birdhouse on Sunday.

The birdhouse, I asked? Yeah, the one on the 14 foot pole by the house. Dad built a new birdhouse with eight little entrances out of an old wooden crate after the old one blew down last year. It’s very fashionable, with the same flat roof that seems to be all the rage in Regina infills.

Well Johnny (the neighbour) came over with his front end loader and, since Johnny (who’s young, like 60) doesn’t like heights, dad climbed into the steel bucket and Johnny raised dad and the birdhouse up to the top of the pole. And it was hard driving four screws up from the plywood platform into the bottom of the house with his messed up arm. And, well, Johnny couldn’t level the bucket worth a damn so his legs were all buckled funny and they’re pretty sore too, what with dad forgetting to put his knee pads on.

Needless to say, with a dad like that, I feel a little awkward complaining about my sore shoulder from 30 minutes of woodchopping, or my sore knee from Sunday morning’s yoga class. I’m doing just fine, thank you. All day, every day.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you. I hope I inherited some of your resilience genes.

We Can Afford To Care For Each Other

The provincial budget was announced yesterday and it’s left me stunned and upset.  I can’t remember feeling gloomier about life in Saskatchewan since the droughts of the mid ’80s.

I mean, I literally used STC on Tuesday to send a birthday package to my niece in Prince Albert and now it’s gone.

Twenty years ago, my grandmother died so poor dad’s family got help with the funeral from social services. Now it seems that’s gone too.

The way I see it, everything we have in Saskatchewan we got by working together and working for each other. Have we forgotten that? Or is that a myth? I still remember in-school dental care and mobile libraries. When we were much poorer as a province it seems we all had so much more.

Nowadays our houses are bigger and our cars are shinier and our phones are magical, but public transport, public libraries and the like are things we aren’t supposed to want.

Is it selfish to want a service we all can use? Is it naive to want to contribute to services that help others, even if I don’t use it? Should we only care about the poor, the young, the sick, the elderly or the remote when times are good? I don’t think so.

But even I caught myself looking at the announcements through the lens of “how am I impacted.”  Look, aside from the tuition hikes, which impact my kids severely, the provincial budget doesn’t hurt me personally.  I’m a middle aged, healthy white man who owns his house and no longer works for a crown corporation.  I’m the ‘core’ and I’m not supposed to care about those who aren’t like me, I guess.

But I do care.  And it pains me when those who most need our help have to pay so the rest of us can maintain the status quo.  That’s not how this province was built.

The problem is the lack of a long term, cooperative vision for all the people of Saskatchewan.  It’s a classic dilemma: in boom times, we don’t need a vision because hey, things are great as is!  And in bust times, we can’t afford something as frivolous as cooperation.  We gotta take action and hey, poor people don’t really need funerals anymore do they? In good times sure, but even the poor need to get realistic here, right?

Let’s keep talking and working together. Talking about the kind of province we want to live in.  And working for each other, serving each other and building lasting institutions for all of us, even when times are tough.

How to Meditate with a Golden Retriever

It’s a challenge. But I’m breathing my way through it.

Buddy, in a state of mindful relaxation.

I have wanted to meditate for several years now. My thinking is getting more and more scattered, and my self talk more and more negative. So better relaxation and focus could really help.

But the Resistance is large with this. It’s as if it knows that better calm and focus will make its destructive job harder. So I thought about it but never started.

Last week I went for my regular long walk around Wascana Lake and listened to the audio of “Real Happiness” by Sharon Salzburg and for whatever reason it got me jazzed to try again. (The reason: it’s a 4 week program so there’s actual things to do. Oh do I need prompts!) So I’ve made a 20 minute meditation session part of my routine.

First thing in the morning I get up, feed the animals, let them outside, then head downstairs for my meditation time. My back’s too tight to sit cross legged for 20 minutes, so I lie on the floor instead.

Just lie there and focus on my breathing. Start thinking about work? Go back to breathing. Relationships? Back to breathing. Past failures and future worries? Breathing. The fact that my back still hurts? Breathing.

Then Buddy, our 10 year old golden retriever, barks to come inside. Breathe. Bark! Breathe. BARK!

Ok, I’m coming.

Back downstairs, and back to breathing. Now he’s beside me. He wants me to pet him. Just breath. He inches closer, (breathe), closer, (breathe), closer, until he’s leaning against my right arm and chest. Now I’m breathing while petting him.

It worked! He’s gone now. Back to breathing.

And he’s back with a toy. Plop. He drops it beside me. Breathe. Plop. He drops it closer. Breathe. Keep breathing and throw the toy. Bud’s a golden retriever but he doesn’t retrieve. He’s got his own Muse.

But this time he retrieves! Breathe. He’s back with the toy. Breathe. He lies down with his toy. Ahh…breathe. Across my feet. Breathe.

Ding! Time’s up. Good session today, Bud. I’m feeling relaxed, focused and strong.

Same time tomorrow?

The Resistance Won A Battle. But I’m Still Fighting The War.

There’s reading about it, and then there’s living it.

I’m a big fan of Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art.”  The book is a kick in the head for all creative people, including writers and entrepreneurs.   It both names and to helps fight the Resistance, that shitty part of your brain that stops you from doing the (seemingly) risky, scary and essential creative work you were meant to do.

I’ve read all of Steven’s non-fiction work and it helps.  But oh boy it’s not helping this month.  The damn Resistance has me hard.  It’s clawing at my brain stem right now.

Some may call it a migraine, but I know exactly what it is.  You don’t just get a migraine when you sit down to write.  But I’ve had three over the past week. Each time it takes me three days to get the courage up to write again.

I tried to trick it, by painting or recording a video instead of writing.  Smart, eh?

Well it wasn’t me that was being smart.  It was that f’ing Resistance again, deflecting the whole time.  Don’t create!  Research a new medium instead.  Look for tripods.  Adjust the lighting.  Watch yourself umm and ahh on video instead of writing clearly like you can.

It took a ‘knock me in bed’ migraine today to finally get it.  I See You.  You prick.

I’m writing about you now, Resistance.  Then I’m hitting Publish.

Then I’m finishing my article.  And starting another one.

You won for the last three weeks.  I won today.

 

 

Time to be Fearless

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I went for a Canada Day walk through Wascana Park today, with Marc Maron’s interview with Neil Young in my ears.  If I was going to ignore the cover bands playing in the park, I figured I should at least listen to a Canadian interview.

They were talking about love and art.  Neil said the key was to be fearless.  If you’re fearless, you open yourself up to real love.  You can’t make art, or make love work, if you’re hiding.

I turned 50 two days ago and this morning I caught myself, once again, worrying about everything.  Money, time, and the lack of both.  Fear of being rejected or worse yet, ignored.  Yet again, being afraid to write and to work and to live.

Enough!  I’m 50 years old for crying out loud!  What, am I going to be afraid till I’m 60?  70?

If not now, then when?

Photo Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

 

Orlando

I should be getting used to it by now; it seems like there’s at least one mass shooting in the US every month. You just process one and then there’s another. But the shooting on the weekend in Orlando struck closer to home than usual.

My kids are young adults; they go to night clubs all the time. And my daughter is part of the LGBT community. I woke up Sunday morning and realized they’re a potential target for someone’s ignorant, pathetic hate.

She’s got a trip planned to LA next week. I’m scared to have her go. Even though there’s seemingly a lot of people there who are armed to the hilt for ‘protection’, it doesn’t give me comfort.

And honestly, the crazy nonsense I’ve been reading online over the past few days has me worried that there’s no ‘normal’ any more down south. Hell, I’m sticking to stamp collecting forums and I still see more hate, ignorance and paranoid fear than I can stomach.

All of us are just floating through space, you know? Just trying to make sense of this crazy messed up thing called “life.” And when I read some of the reactions to the latest disaster I realize I’m no closer to figuring it out.

I don’t know what’s worse: the sick hatred that’s behind these crimes or the fear and ignorance that fuels the flames. All I know is that the story is getting really old.

I can’t remember a time in my life when we weren’t encouraged to hate another group, be it national, religious, racial or sexual. Can you?

What Are You Up To?


Saturday Farmer’s Market, Estremoz, Portugal

Cindy and I walked down to the Farmer’s Market today. It was fun to see the vendors again and catch up on things. It’s been two years since I baked for the Market but lots of people still want to see our bread there.

There was lots of interest in our trip and what we saw. There was even more interest in what we were doing next. Sadly, I think my response was a poor one.

I have this habit of telling people I need to figure something out, because I can’t be “unemployed” for much longer. But that’s the wrong answer.

  • I’m already talking to several places in town about starting or improving their bread production
  • There are people signed up to The Baker’s Bench who are ready for another baking course
  • I’m running into people on the street who say they enjoy our travel blog and want me to keep writing

So whether I say it or not, I’m already a baker, a teacher and a writer. And I’m doing all those things. I just didn’t get paid today.

It’s too easy to describe ourselves only in terms of what we do for money. That’s a trap. There’s a lot more going on in all of us.

What’s Your Medium?

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I recently watched “Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview” on Netflix (also on YouTube here.) It’s a complete interview from 1995 when Jobs was running Next, before he came back to Apple, launched the iPod and iPhone and basically ruled the world.

The interview was a real trip down memory lane for me because I remember the PBS show “Triumph of the Nerds” (on which they showed excerpts of the interview) very well.  I loved that show; I may still have the much watched VHS tape I made of the series and the book on which it was based somewhere in the basement. Although the host didn’t know it, the show was about me, my life in high school, University and my first career as a programmer at SaskTel.

But I was really taken aback listening to him now, some 20 years and a lifetime later.  Steve Jobs’ ideals and vision resonate with me now even more than they did in 1995.

The best bit for me had nothing to do with technology.  At the very end of the interview, Jobs was asked if he was a Hippie or a Nerd.  After declaring for the Hippies, he defined what that meant to him.

[Hippies see that] There’s something beyond what you see every day. There’s something going on here in life that’s more than what you see.  More than a job and a career and a family and two cars in the garage…

…It’s the same thing that causes people to be poets instead of bankers.  I think that’s a wonderful thing.  And I think that same spirit can be put into products.  And when you give that [the product] to people they can feel it.

…So, I don’t think the best people who I’ve worked with, worked with computers for the sake of working with computers.  They worked with computers because they are the medium that is best capable for transmitting some feeling that you have and you want to share with other people.

It’s a weird feeling hearing that now because I started out using computers with exactly that feeling.  Lately I use flour and water and bread as the medium.  But the goal is the same: to build something awesome and share that spirit with other people.

Since I no longer have my bakery, I need to find something else to do. But I’m after more than just a job; I need a different way to share that spirit.  It might be with bread, or with words, or even with technology again.

I’ve tried explaining this to prospective employers or partners but I’ve been scraping around the edges.  That segment in the video helped me find the centre again.

What’s your medium?  What glimmer of awesomeness are you sharing with other people?

A Tale of Two Bridges

Funky drawbridge, Rotterdam
Funky drawbridge, Rotterdam

During our recent cycling trip through Holland I was repeatedly struck by the beauty of what we would call the ‘infrastructure’ of the place. The street signs, the light posts, but especially the bridges.

In a country with as many canals as roads, you’re going to have a lot of bridges. I was surprised to see that many of them had unique and beautiful designs. They were functional works of art. And many of them had the builder or designer prominently displayed right on the bridge.

I can imagine the effort that went into designing these bridges. The design competition and the decision process to install this bridge here, and this different design three blocks over.  It would’ve added to the cost, but added something remarkable into the landscape.

Nameplate on a drawbridge, on the main road somewhere between Utrecht and Amsterdam

There’s a new footbridge near my home in Saskatchewan too. It connects the high school with a park and, beyond, a small library on the way to the city centre. The old bridge, no more than 60 years old but, alas, made of wood, must have been deemed unsafe in this modern age.

There is no art to my new bridge. It’s exactly the same as the other new footbridges that cross Wascana Creek. It’s made from galvanized steel (same as the recent grey/silver light posts) and pressure treated lumber. It may not be beautiful but it’s likely the cheapest way to cross the creek on foot. There’s no name on the bridge, or any of the other bridges crossing the creek, identifying the designer or the builder.

No doubt the decision to build the bridge in my town was based solely on cost. What design can give me the most bridges for the least money? Can we use existing ‘off the shelf’ components? Which installation crew is the cheapest? Then ask those questions in a blind bidding process and pick the cheapest option.

It won’t create anything lasting, or beautiful. It won’t make my heart sing every time I walk to the library. The galvanized steel handrail won’t feel good when I hold it. But hey, at least the builder was chosen through an objective and fair process. And Our Tax Dollars were used ‘responsibly.’

I find that sad.  And a missed opportunity.

There are a hundred opportunities every year to add art and beauty and good design to the world we live in. To choose the beautiful and interesting as well as the functional. To move people with our public spaces.

It’s time to add beauty to the conversation.