Beg Steal or Borrow

I grew up in a small town. It was a good place for kids and families to live.  We could go out for the day and leave the house unlocked. My dad would park the car in the yard and leave the key in the ignition where he knew he could find it. Nobody robbed our house or stole our car. Families knew each other and there was a sense of community.

If you did something bad as a kid, it had a way of getting back to your parents as fast as a packet of information can move down a fibre optic line in today’s digital world.  Maybe the eyes of a community had a way of keeping things in check. Maybe it was limiting to stay.

When I was 17 years old, I left home for university and never lived in my small town again.  I didn’t miss it. I felt grown up in the big world. In the years that followed, the city became my home. I loved what the city had to offer – anonymity, diversity, energy and opportunity. I still love it for all the same reasons.

In the past decade, I have been drawn back to rural life where everything is slower, simpler and unadorned.  It’s as if I can’t wait to return to that which I couldn’t wait to be free of when I was just starting out in the world.  

My life is the circle game, as Joni Mitchell so insightfully captured in her song of the same name.  I think all of us look back and remember the days when we were young, when we had big dreams and couldn’t wait to get started on the world.

This song is an acoustic cover of a beautiful and haunting song by Ray Lamontagne and the Pariah Dogs.  Beg Steal or Borrow isn’t about ripping anyone off to get ahead. It is a metaphor for doing what is necessary to get where your dreams want to take you.

A Mythical Tale

Hummingbird and Dragonfly were resting in the branches of a purple-flowered shrub. “Timethief is hoping to choose a Favicon and she has narrowed her choice to the two of us, “said Hummingbird.

“Yes,” said Dragonfly. “Who do you think is the best choice for her?”

Hummingbird darted to a more comfortable branch, pausing in mid-flight to consider the question. “I believe you are, dear Dragonfly, for you have so many dimensions. You transform yourself in keeping with the illusion of life. You are worldy and unwavering as you travel the canvas of life. That is Timethief.”

“You are very kind, my lovely feathered friend,” replied Dragonfly. Of course I would be honored to represent her. But I believe you are the best choice. You are a messenger, rising from the western meadows with precision and grace. You are a diviner of time and space, and that is also Timethief.”

And so the conversation went on throughout a pleasant afternoon, each graciously offering reasons why the other should be chosen. As the sun began to drip from a late afternoon sky, Eagle overheard the conversation and dropped down onto a broken limb of an Arbutus tree.

“You are both worthy, my friends,” said Eagle. “But only Timethief can choose. For no matter what any of us may think of her or see in her, what she is, is what she believes herself to be. Only she can know.”

“That is so like you, Eagle, to see the bigger picture,” said Dragonfly. And realizing that no answer could be found, she immediately departed for a bug ice cream stand on a cool lily pad in a nearby pond.

“Indeed,” added Hummingbird, whose ankles were growing very tired from perching so long on a wobbly branch. “Your intuition is very sharp and you also see the inner picture.” And with that, she was gone in the twitch of a wing and the blink of an eye, seeking the abundance that comes with sweet moments.

Eagle looked out over the western meadow, her solo dreams in crescendo with a chorus of chirping crickets rising up from the simmering summer grass. Field Mouse looked up and saw Eagle gazing at the distant horizon. A grace note, in harmony with the music of the land, she scurried unnoticed into a tiny burrow within a greater chord.

Timethief will choose when she is ready, thought Eagle. At that moment, a breeze came in from the water, ruffling her crown feathers, stirring ancient wisdoms and yearnings. Inspired, she spread her majestic wings and lifted up into the eternal lightness of being and the peace that comes from knowing one can never make a wrong choice.

Creativity and Aging

All of us are born with a natural inquisitiveness. When we are children, we are all creative. We experiment with everything around us in order to learn. But early in our lives, not coincidentally around the time we head to school, we figure out that it is faster, easier and often safer to duplicate what someone else is doing rather than to make up things ourselves. Creativity can be hard and dangerous. There are no rules and no guidelines. It makes children nervous in an uncertain world.

Childhood and education conspire to kill our creativity. Now all you educators out thererikaartpic1e are going to want to challenge me on that, but let me say up front that I am not blaming you for any of this. Where I live, schools are consumed with curricular outcomes and data collection. Arts programs are withering on the vine with funding cutbacks and from the pursuit of higher academic ratings. Schools also have to compete with a relentless and pervasive pop culture. Educators, it is not your fault that lunch-time karaoke and lip-synching contests are more popular than the jazz band concert or the student art show.

It is part of human survival to learn to fit in. Additionally, we learn to be successful by mimicking the norm. But we risk ceasing to be authentically creative when we simply reproduce that which is just handed to us by mass culture . Even now, someone out there may be thinking about lifting words off this blog post. I should be flattered, but I just find it sad that someone would think my writing is better than what they could express on their own.

Everyone knows the purpose of a coloring book is to color inside the lines. Did you ever draw a picture in grade school and put a band of blue on the top of a white page for sky and a band of green on the erikaartpic2bottom for grass? How about stick figures? Children don’t see the world that way, but those were the drawings that hung all over my Grade 1 class. In absence of knowing what to do, children (and grown-ups) look around and follow others. Why would anyone knowingly give a child a coloring book and take from them the freedom to draw something of their own? Answer: It is simply fun to color and it’s great for developing fine motor skills. But somewhere along the line, this activity has been terribly confused with art and the act of being creative.

I flunked out of Grade 3 Conservatory piano lessons when I was young. One day, my music teacher, bemoaning a horribly inaccurate rendition of “Fur Eloise”, asked me how my rather interpretive version could possibly be what Beethoven had intended. I knew what I played was awful. I just wanted to play what I heard and at the time, that was Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys.  But music rules were to be followed. My friend Sheila played the notes as written like a robot. She excelled. To this day, she can’t pick a tune out on the piano in the absence of sheet music.

Nonetheless, acquiring the fundamental skills can spare you pain down the road. Unless you become somewhat competent, you can be clobbered by the Simon Cowells of the world. All the talent in the world won’t save you from ridicule if you put yourself out there and can’t deliver on the basics. I am not advocating abandoning practise or suggesting there is no value in mastery of the arts. But I see many people who have creative ability simply give up their interest over a perceived  lack of ability to measure up.

As we age, we recover the creative freedom we were born with. We start to see through the rules and we emerge with clear eyes and fresh ears for the world. Some of the greatest writing, art, science discoveries and music have been produced by people between the ages of 70-90. This does not surprise me. When we reach a place in our life where we are able to let go of what we think we should be doing, we return to our original, natural, childlike inquisitiveness. We start to color outside the lines. We take up the piano again and play the notes we want. We even have the audacity to write and publish our creative words in a blog. Creativity lost in childhood returns as we age. Here lies a path to eternal youth.

(Original drawings done by Erika, Age 8, El Salvador)

Every day, I find myself thinking about the world and what we humans are doing to it. What other creature on this earth generates so much by-product from daily living? Answer: None that I can find. The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to behave like egotistical rock stars in a hotel room and trash the place as if it doesn’t belong to us, expecting someone else will clean it up when we are done.

Small Footprints has started a Change the World Wednesday challenge. A group of other bloggers from Blog Catalog have also jumped on board, led by the author of LiveSmart. This week, the challenge is to compost or recycle in order to downsize individual trash. As I am a serious recycler already (and cannot compost here in my urban low rise), my participation in the weekly event is to write about how recycling works for me.

Using the classic North American white plastic grocery bag as my scientific tool of refuse measurement, I’ve estimated my personal trash impact on this planet:

  • garbageI discard less than one bag of garbage per week.
  • I recycle approximately 2/3 of a bag of containers per week (glass, metal, plastic).
  • I recycle approximately 1/3 of a bag of mixed paper per week.
  • I return one bag of bottles/containers for deposit (or give them to the homeless guys who collect them in my neighborhood) per week.

If not for recycling habits, I would be adding three times the volume of garbage I currently have every week to the local landfill.  But there is more to this than just recycling. It is a shift in personal use habits that has really reduced what I accumulate in the first place.

For example, I rarely purchase newspapers anymore. I either read them online or in a coffee shop where copies are shared. I use my own mug at the coffee shop and at work whenever possible. I have a metal water bottle on my desk at work and carry another one in my gym bag. gcanI use cloth bags for groceries.  My kitchen garbage pail (which doubles as my household pail) is an empty, recycled dog biscuit container. I support products with modest or no packaging whenever possible. And finally, I try to buy only that which I need and can use and reuse. When I have things that are in good condition but no longer of service to me, I donate them to charity.

That is a quick summary of the change in behavior that has occurred for me. Recycling and reusing are two aspects of the change. Considering what I will use an item for, and where it will end up when I”m done with it, is a third and equally important aspect. This aspect now influences every single thing I buy.  If you want to leave a smaller footprint, recycle and reuse, but also become conscious of where every item came from and where it will go when it leaves your possession. If you can do this, you will acquire much-needed gentle hands.

Change The World Wednesday has a weekly Honor Society of bloggers getting the word out. If you enjoyed my post you may be interested in checking some of them out as well:

Gaia Tribe
Nature With Me
See Why Kinsman
Tender Graces
Kathryn Magendie
Kelly’s Ideas
Ann – from Last week’s challenge
Live Smart

Lifelong Learning

 In the past, the brain was thought to become static as we age. Recent research has shown that the brain has plasticity, or the ability to form new neural pathways throughout our lives.  As we age, it is important to continue to challenge our brains to learn new things.  Do you ever catch yourself saying, “I’m too old for that”?  Deciding we are too old for something is a limiting attitude and has little to do with the ability of our brain to learn new things. Granted, learning something new when we are older may not be as easy or as fast as when we were young, but it can still be done. 

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to get my motorcycle license before I turned fifty. I was the only female in a class with nine other guys under the age of 25. It was a bit daunting at first – all that noise and testosterone buzzing around in every direction.  Taking motorcycle lessons was one of the most mentally challenging things I’ve done in recent years. The level of concentration required in a fast-paced learning environment involving large instruments of propulsion was absolutely exhausting. I think the greatest thing I took away from the classes (other than a profound sense of how easy it is to be squashed on the highway like a bug), is that it is never too late to learn something new.  In fact, using our brains in new ways helps to retain youthfulness and quality of life as we age; it also helps us recover should we ever find ourselves with a brain injury.

Almost two decades ago, my father had a massive stroke. It happened exactly one week after he had come out of open heart surgery for a triple by-pass.  After assessing his brain damage, the doctors advised my family that he would be permanently and severely disabled. The damage to the left hemisphere of his brain was so extensive, he was not expected to recover his ability to communicate or walk. He could not speak and was unable to understand even basic language. His right side was entirely paralyzed. He had no idea what was going on around him.

A few weeks into his recovery, as I sat by his hospital bed one afternoon, it occurred to me that I might be able to communicate with him through music. Having studied a little about the brain in university psychology, I knew that music was known to be largely associated with the right hemisphere. This part of my father’s brain was undamaged.

So as I sat with him, I started to sing an old song I’d heard him and my Uncle Henry sing when I was a little girl.  I could only recall a few lines and probably got most of the words wrong, but I was able to sing the melody to him. He watched me for a while, and I saw his blue eyes focus with recognition. Then he suddenly started to hum the melody along with me.  Music was my dad’s first connection back into the world we thought he had lost.

My dad did recover well enough to beat his buddies at crib, even if he couldn’t count his cards out loud at the end of a hand. He learned to walk well enough to get into the kitchen and fry up a pan full of sausages when my mom wasn’t looking. In his mid-60s, he had been faced with relearning everything, and his phenomenal recovery was a result of brain plasticity, innovative rehab and a determined attitude. 

The music I play and upload these days is all music I have just learned. I’m not very interested in playing something I already know.  I choose a song when my writing or people inspire me in some way, and then I learn it from scratch. It pushes me on so many levels, I can’t begin to describe what it feels like.  But I really like it.  I know my brain and I are both getting better with age.

“That Lucky Old Sun” is the song that I sang with my dad after his stroke. It is a song that obviously held meaning for him when he sang it with his brother Henry years ago. In the video that follows, I’m playing my Uncle Henry’s 1930’s Gibson guitar, neck worn from the music that he played during his life.  Long gone from these strings and this song, my dad and my uncle both still sing and play in my memories, and the gift of their music lives on through my hands.

Canada is 142 years old today and it is a national holiday. At 6 am this morning, my Blackberry alarm started to bleep. 

“Why is the alarm going off? It’s the weekend,” I thought.  A fog of confusion lifted and was replaced with annoyance.  “Oh no!  If the alarm is going off, it isn’t the weekend. I have to get up and go to work!”

Logic is not my forte when waking up early by alarm.  My thoughts frequently lag several seconds behind my return to consciousness.  So does my dexterity. I groped madly for the device bleeping away on the bedside table. In my uncoordinated stupor, I fumbled it up into the air, sending it clattering onto the hardwood floor with battery and cover piece flying off in different directions. 

It was at this point that I remembered today was a holiday.  My Blackberry had not known this.  As I crawled on my hands and knees picking up the scattered pieces, I accused it of behaving in a highly unpatriotic fashion.  I even threatened not to reassemble it for the day.  Clearly a case of sleep-deprived blaming, given I’m the one who programs it.

When I got up later, I decided to watch the Canada Day celebrations from Ottawa on the TV.  Right in the middle of Prime Minister Harper’s speech to the citizens of this fair country, the Canadian Snowbirds flew overhead in spectacular formation.  It was a gorgeous display. Too bad they were miscued.

Now one thing I have to point out is this kind of production faux pas would never occur in the US.  Imagine the Blue Angels roaring over the White House  in the middle of President Obama’s July 4th address to the nation.  That’s just not going to happen.

But in Canada, the miscued jets will make today all the more fun and memorable.  Some liberals are already theorizing that the mistimed entrance was deliberate, that some left wing socialist type wanted to drown out Harper’s words.  I can’t  buy a conspiracy. This is Canada, after all.  Nobody could be bothered with that sort of political plotting.  And besides, when it comes to a national celebration, we can usually count on at least one person to trip over a cord or miss an entrance.  This is part of our national charm.

You can bet that whoever made the mistake won’t lose his or her job.  Nobody will even yell at the person, unless they are in the military where shouting is considered a loud form of speaking.  People are already saying everything worked out okay and it was a lovely show just the same. That’s what I love about my country:  We are so willing to accept mistakes and forgive. 

Not a bad quality for a anyone, or any country, to aspire to.

The Boot List

Not too long ago, the idea of a “bucket list” was popularized by a movie of the same name. The idea behind a bucket list is to compile all of the things you want to do before you die and then get them done.

For several years now, I’ve had a list that is considerably less morbid than a bucket list.  Originally known as my 25/50 list, it started as a list of 25 things I wanted to do before I turned 50.  Blogging was added to my list a few years ago. Getting my motorcycle license was another. So was learning to speak Spanish.  The latter is still on the list.  Esto vida.  Some things happen faster than others; some things may even be dropped due to changing interests.  Each year around New Years Eve, I visit the list, cross off things I’ve done, discard any I”ve lost interest in, and add some new ones.  It is a yearly work in progress. Not surprisingly, it has also become the 20/60 list – I’ve reduced the number of things I want to do, and obviously, if one does not kick the bucket by the target age, the parameter must be adjusted.

Just recently, I had a new idea. I decided to create a “boot list”.  A boot list contains things I have done, but have gleefully decided I never, ever have to do again. In other words,  a boot list is things that I just feel like kicking off my list of activities because I don’t want to (or have to) do them anymore.  Now how liberating is that? It  is allowing yourself to retire from anything which is annoying, tedious, foolish or unhealthy.

This is a very refreshing and empowering exercise.  If you decide to give it a try, the two rules of what can be put on the list are as follows: 1) it must be something you’ve done at least once and 2) it must be something that has the possibility to be repeated.  

So here are a few things I’ve got on my “boot list” so far. I will never again…

1.  Sleep in a sleeping bag on the hard ground.

2. Supersize anything. 

3.  Have a secret relationship.  

4. Swim in a pool that doesn’t serve drinks on the side.

5. Ask friends to help me move.

6. Attend a baby or wedding shower.

7.  Change a flat tire on my car.

8.  Believe a cowboy who says “she’s a tame old mare”.

9.  Sew anything bigger than a button.

10. Make a list with exactly ten things on it.

11. Run for any kind of position or office.

That’s my start. What would you put on your boot list??