Welcome to the dream?

kitchen writing cornerIf the world gave you exactly what you’ve always wanted, a chance, would you have the balls to follow through? Last Wednesday, after seven magical years rolling paper (don’t ask) in Calgary’s oil & gas downtown mecca, I was ‘temporarily’ laid off. Stress, panic, pain… the energy in this city is darkening. One minute I was bragging to my mother cross-country about my cozy office morning spent plucking my eyebrows and youtubing The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills – did I mention it’s been slow? Verbatim quote: “I can’t believe I’m getting paid for this!” Sometimes irony is visceral. Fast forward three hours and I’m a tear-stained tragedy wandering downtown, albeit with perfectly shaped brows – small comfort when facing one’s last paycheck.

But even then, in the depths of my denial, a bright edged Chinook arched above the agony. Because, dear readers, I have been given a gift of unimaginable grace. I have two months before my company decides my fate, 8 weeks, 60 days to live the life I’ve always lusted for, the life of a novelist.

Twelve years ago, just married and oozing happily ever after from every pore, there were no impossibilities. I was working at Subway, which sucked, but I was writing a novel to get me out. Every page was one day closer to ‘Escaping the Lunch Rush’, and so that’s what I called it. I lived alongside my characters, a group of abducted humans slaves in an alien food court, struggling to get back to Earth. And on my knees in the back room, sweeping the floor between the ankles and inhuman chatter of my Subway bosses, I knew in every cell of my being that I was only chapters away from freedom.

The day I finished that novel was the day I knew my future, but more importantly, it was the day I knew myself. But it didn’t save me from Subway, and it sure as heck didn’t save me from myself! A dozen years later and the world has given me another chance at the impossible. But this time I’m ready. Like an Olympian, I’ve trained my entire body and brain for this one brief, fleeting moment. My current novel is 1/3 done and begging for my undivided attention. Screw statistics and f#ck the naysayers. I want to write. Finally, truly, purely, I want to write! Fairmont Palliser CalgaryBecause that’s all it takes. The want. If every breath is an entire lifetime lived in full, I want as many breaths as possible to flow through my fingers and onto the page. It is my most generous, compassionate gift to self. In this day and age, publication doesn’t matter, doesn’t pay. Two months to write my way out of working is… realistically… ludicrous. But I will still believe. It is the only way to make the story I’m writing real, and because happily ever after is so much more than a childhood fantasy. It is the only dream worth living. And don’t let anyone take it away from you – no matter what.

Join me, dear readers, in the impossible. And today, don’t settle. Don’t pussy out. Steal as many breaths as you can to invest in your own fantasy. Bring every sense on board. Rather than finding a corner in the kitchen, make writing a full body experience by setting the cues of your environment to match your own happily ever after. I sit here typing this in the luxurious breakfast area of downtown Calgary’s Fairmont Palliser Hotel, wearing the full costume of a sophisticated professional. I may have stolen a mini honey jar (and possibly a jam), and paid only 5 bucks for 2 poached eggs, but every breath I take (including smelling the delightfully literal roses!) is an entire system state experience of my most honest, congruent reality. The future doesn’t matter, because for this Monday moment, I am truly, purely, a novelist.

There’s only one problem. I married a golfer…

How to change your time perspective using a shower curtain

striped shower curtain What is your time perspective? For some of us, every breath is a lifetime lived in full. After all, at our end, it is the last observable measure of our humanity that cannot be quantized any further. But when every graduation, from micro to macro, is as equal an entirety, how do we balance the poignancy of the present with investment in the future?

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo gives a remarkable TED talk on time perspectives, where he states that “lots of conflict we have with people is really a conflict in different time perspectives,” and notes that “there’s no future tense verb in Sicilian dialect.” I am a ‘present hedonist’ – even my novel is being written in present tense! With my biology, the current trend of mindfulness and engagement with the present is intuitive simplicity itself. My attentions are unfiltered. Value and truth are dynamic, adaptive, and (oftentimes to my obvious detriment) situational. As thankful as I am for this cognitive freedom, I’m also intensely jealous of those who can lay back – future focus – and relax into the scope of an entire lifetime, permitting (if not necessitating) notions of RRSPs, Plato ideals, and justice (whatever the heck that is).

striped shower curtain bathroomFor present hedonists like myself, every emotion is amplified by its immediacy, every pain or lump is a finality, every impulse is… well, you get the idea. Every morning we land on an aircraft carrier but are never quite able to hook the cable for that slowing, soothing pull into the group story. Now that I’m getting older, my answering extremes have begun to sabotage rather than compensate. But when I fake comfort in routine, by the end of the day – one life – my subconscious is seething and I wake from dreams that are terrifying in their urgency.

On days like today, I take a hot shower in the airlock behind the vinyl curtain and try with every effort to transport my brain from one world into another. Because I am writing a novel, working a job, celebrating a marriage… basically living a life that requires a more future oriented time perspective. But maybe my shower curtain is more than a decorative feature. Maybe it holds the truth of a personal evolution I’ve been too stubborn to see.

Three years ago I found the perfect shower curtain at Walmart – I’m talking PERFECT. Its stripes matched my baskets and towels and cabinetry. I was so excited that I had to take pictures – bathroom decor nerd moment, I know. When, as all things do, it expired, I went back and bought the exact same one. My third trip to Walmart’s bathroom supply department found me panicking in the aisle. tree shower curtainMy perfect shower curtain had been discontinued!! Now what!? Nothing else was even close! Finally, after all manner of aesthetic calculations, weighing of variables, and flat out desperation, I picked one (pictured). When I put it up and took off the striped basket covers, I surprised to find that I liked the overall look even more. And you know what, dear readers, I went back to Walmart that same afternoon and bought a second one, now waiting patiently under the sink.

Apparently, somewhere deep in my brain, there is the possibility that the universe and my God may (touch wood – oops, probably should be praying) grace me with enough breaths to match the material lifetimes of two shower curtains. No guarantees, no expectations, just a quiet, hesitant trust in the future. And maybe this small new hope, this shy faith, is enough to allow me to be better committed to my novel, my man, and the well-being of my own body. Maybe this shower curtain has enough weight to shift the equation and show that I’ve tilted my time perspective, ever so slightly, into the future. And for $12.97, that’s one serious deal!

Can’t get no satisfaction? Dare a storied life!

office head bangingMonday. Shit. The alarm goes off and the world ends. Click here to read with rockin’ Rolling Stones soundtrack. Sure, I’ve got big wet n’ sloppy gratitude for warm sheets and a job. In terms of human history – let’s not kid ourselves – you and I are living the dream baby, living the dream. So why do so many of us feel nothing, NOTHING, when we get our paycheck except the low gut burn of wasted time?

Most brains are tuned to the group story, unconsciously incorporating trends, established creeds, and authorities into a prefrontal construction of falsified independence. It’s the survival evolution of a social species. A rebellious primate who won’t follow the rules is ostracized until it slinks off into the forest to die, miserable, confused, and alone. What do we do with our own rebels? What happens to those of us whose brains tell us we’re doing something wrong when we follow the crowd?

We fake it. We grind through our current paradigm’s efficiencies – a muted world, misted over and untouchable. To compensate for the emptiness of a life lived as someone else, to FEEL something, so many of us spend years hidden away in secret gardens that slowly, insidiously, destroy the core soul we’re trying to protect.

But we live in a magical age. Globalization through communication has revealed an endless variation in viable worlds. We are free to chose the life that feels most real. But there’s a catch. We are a social species. No escaping the fact. Every human, rebel or not, is a collaboration. We need love to survive. Stray too far from the pack and the unconscious pull-back can lead to all kinds of mental/physical suffering. It’s a cruel irony that some of the most biologically rebellious brains are also the most sensitive.

Balance? How can we rebels be our most congruent selves without ending up alone in the forest? I propose a storied life, a personal scripting rooted in unrelenting compassion for our own coding. Let’s fill out life’s left brain efficiencies with right brain dramas. Let’s load our day-to-day with sensory touchstones, moments when we can be fully present, whole, and alive. If it’s not authentic, don’t force an emotional response to the group story. Just let it go. Pooof! Like I said, it’s a magical time.

Love. Take your system back down to the surface of your skin and start from there. Be your own ambassador in the world. Chin up, no guilt, no shame. And if head banging at the office makes your Monday come alive, then by all means, go ahead get the party started!

How to stop sweating the small stuff… once you’ve already started

angry womanTragedy, like blame and Brunelleschi, is so often a matter of perspective. Ever wonder why it’s so hard to be rational about stuck lids, traffic jams, and computer crashes? These paradigm dependent annoyances are essentially arbitrary; it’s the timeless universals triggered deep in our limbic brains that cause all the huffing and puffing. So how can we tame our reptilian responses and learn to follow Miranda Kerr’s (who better than a supermodel to guide us plebs) most recent life advice and stop sweating the small stuff?

Let’s take a classic example – wish it was hypothetical. Two days ago I turned on my office computer and discovered that an entire chapter of my work-in-progress novel had vanished into thin… into… if I knew where, even metaphorically, I’d be ahead of the game. Instantly, I felt my whole body reacting: sweaty palms, nausea, teeth gnashing rage… the works. My prefrontal cortex couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I knew my only hope of regaining perspective on this paradigm pitfall was to engage with my system as a whole.

Exercise in Engagement: How to stop sweating the small stuff… once you’ve already started

1) (Optional) Begin to loosen paradigm associations/restrictions by performing a quick sense scroll mindfulness meditation – preferably, but not necessarily, in paradigm neutral territory (aka nature).

2) Identify the universal human theme that has been triggered. Since I was already blasting my way through the 5 stages, it was easy to identify ‘loss’ as my emotional theme.

3) Since our brains already process our lives through story, it’s only logical to make use of storytelling as a practical psychological tool. Determine the historical/geographical/situational paradigm that best fits your body/brain’s current system state reaction. My reptilian brain tends to be a bit of drama queen, so my go-to paradigm for almost any piss-off is medieval London during the plague years – not exactly the swingin’ sixties. Story a situation that truly reflects your emotional state, thereby acknowledging your initial reaction with respect and permission. What are the sights, sounds, smells? Characters? Dialogues? Really push it.

4) Take your universal theme into an entirely different paradigm and a story that would warrant an emotional reaction on the opposite end of the spectrum. Play around. Journey your piss-off through time and space to find multiple comparables. Someone stepping on a clay pot I just made in a Roman pottery kiln. Losing my latest obsidian spear point… and finding it again. Change the ending. This is your story. The purpose is to flood your brain with conflicting sets of information to clear the stage for conscious re-framing of your initial circumstance.

5) Return to your own paradigm and decide how big of a deal this really is. I do mean decide. By respecting your initial reaction, and giving it the neural space to temper through alternative storytelling, your thinking will be directed towards a more neutral, rational objectiveness. Any novel necessitates rewrites, so this is just an inevitable part of the process – plus, I’ve still got the handwritten draft. Also, because you’ve loosened your associations, certain paradigm privileges will start to peek through. My office’s air conditioning for one!

This entire process can be performed in under 5 minutes and can save, not just your composure, but your whole day, not to mention more than a few marriages. By some sweet miracle of storytelling come to life, the next morning I found a hidden typed hard copy of my lost chapter in a place I swear I’d already double-checked. But something tells me I’ll be storying new troubles back to the ol’ Thames before the week is out. Must be a human or something… sigh.

How to know you’ve OD’ed on philosophy

playing catch with philosophyFor those of us whose minds and mouths seem so much more adept at forming questions than answers… For those of us who swing wide on the flexibilities of our viable worlds… For those of us who can never stop exploring… Is it possible to overdose on philosophy? If there is one solid answer in this world, it is to this question. And three days ago it smacked me upside the head… YES!

It was the last dream before the morning. In the boundless, though tremulous reality of my dream’s gestalted storyline, I am teaching a small toddling self to play catch under a purple sky.

“OK, here we go,” I said. “I’ll throw you the ball, then you catch it and throw it back to me.”

My mini mirror caught my light toss with expert ease. But then she hesitated, looked up at me and asked, with blue eyes wide and questioning…

“Why?”

Can a salad sex up your summer?

sexy saladsYou know you want it… the tastes, the smells, the mouthfeel (oh man, I love that word). Go ahead and indulge. You’re worth it. You’ve earned it. Life is short. Woah… wait a second. Are we talking about sex or salads here? Can the prerequisite platitudes we use to defend anything from hair colouring to having affairs apply equally to vegetables? Life is short – here, have a carrot. Nope. Didn’t think so.

pineapple avocado saladSo if life is so short why bother eating healthy? Because it’ll be a hell of a lot shorter if we don’t? Like that argument ever works – not! How about another tempting equation: eat salad = get skinny = get laid? Logical. But just ask the next whiny wisp of a woman how sexy she feels tucking into her sprouts n’ lentils. Now, I can sit here and wax on about supporting one’s optimal system state with a custom care diet that’s high in fiber/nutrients and low in calories/sugar. But why bother when the straight-up skinny is…

Pure unadulterated pleasure.

smoked herring saladForget parched packaged veggies and Subway blasphemies. The key is to go right back to your hunter gatherer roots and get primal about your lunch. The grocery store becomes your ranging territory rather than an overwhelming warehouse. Follow your senses! Hunt for the colours and textures that stand out (most likely to be in season) from the others and get creative. Jumble a load of random deliciousness into your basket – veggies, fresh/dried fruits, cheeses, kippers, etc. And don’t forget about novelty dressing ingredients. Listen to your mood, to the weather, and pay attention to whatever items stimulate and/or excite a reaction or craving.

raspberry pumpkin seed saladChop/roast/mix your foragings and store them in containers (I’ve taken over our office fridge’s bottom drawer) for easy custom salad recipes, made according to the tastes of the day. Basically, you’re trying to create easy access to a sensory orgy of nutrient rich unprocessed foods while giving you a sense of control over your system state without sacrificing novelty, risk, or surprise.

Can a salad set-up sex up your summer? Hell ya! When we invest time and energy into supporting our optimal system state – however counterintuitive the specifics may feel at first – we gain a new sense of ownership and appreciation for our bodies. Rather than feeding a desperate amygdala with sugars and fats, a healthy system gives us space to indulge a far greater range of pleasures – gastronomic and otherwise. An attitude of curiousity and honest indulgence about food (+ all that zinc) keeps our brains alert for other… um… indulgences. And obviously, getting in primo shagging shape is an extra bonus.