Letting go of Sex and the City

We mold our womanhood from a thousand bits of clay, not the cool wet river mud of our deepest stories, but countless social scripts that shape our permissions. We learn to bypass our biology and ignore the quiet moments with our mothers in favour of the symbols and rituals of an artificial construct. But bring time into the equation and that construct begins to fade away. Continue reading

Breaking up with celebrity gossip

imageCelebrity gossip is to women what sports are to men. We live the hunt vicariously, for love, for the revenge body, for the perfect shoe/bag combo… and just for the record I was on “Team Jen.” There’s no shame here; I delight in relational dramz as much as the next gal. It’s just how our brains are wired. Those silly boys tease us while they’re out there literally losing sleep over whether some other dude gets a ball in a hole – way to go buddy, way to go. Continue reading

What people don’t understand about Peaches Geldof and addiction

peaches geldof wedding picturesThe coroner’s verdict is in: Peaches Geldof died of a heroin overdose. This tragedy has left two young sons without a mother and an entire extended family without the woman described by her father as “the wildest, funniest, cleverest, wittiest, and the most bonkers of all of us.”

And yet, at this very moment, there are morbidly obese workaholic smokers smirking at this latest bit of internet ‘gossip’, smug in their own judgement of a woman they never met, never even heard of until her death. “How could she chose heroin over her own children?” they troll, oblivious to the irony.

The only difference between smoking a cigarette and shooting up is how long it takes to devastate your system as a whole. All for what? A temporary neurotransmitter buzz? Ah, but that’s the trick of addiction. It feels like so much more.

Disease or choice? When there are reasonable rhetorical arguments on both sides of any debate, logic dictates that there is space for an alternative conceptual model. Let’s go back to Aristotle and identify an addict by what they repeatedly do. Time and time again, an addict will chose their insatiable over everything and everyone they have previously professed to love. And that’s OK, actually perfectly reasonable. From their cognitive paradigm, it’s inevitable. Admitting this plain, if painful, fact begins to relax the cognitive dissidence that so often traps an addict within their fantasy. Addiction, a complex sequence of neurobiological interactions through time, is actually refreshingly simple to explain.

Addiction changes the vocabulary of your internal monologue – because it directly alters your system state, thereby your viable world, and even your own history.

While certain brains – impulsive, sensitive, creative, intelligent – are structurally more susceptible to addiction because of their innate flexibility (Bob Geldof’s quote about his daughter is quite telling), anyone can get hooked on a substance or behaviour, especially after physical/sexual/psychological trauma. Introduce a chemical or act that causes neurotransmitter bliss (or release from discomfort) and, provided the negative consequences don’t immediately trump the reward, your thinking begins to accommodate and adapt to this new working solution.

If you ever try (or do) something that triggers this specific thought: “This is the best feeling ever – I need to do whatever possible to keep this going for as long as possible.” Be VERY careful. This is why, for so many of us, foreplay is never enough. This is why one drink is too many for an alcoholic. Your logic skews to internalize this ‘truth’ and restructures your perception of reality to support these new priority permissions. Past traumas become more painful – the memories will actually alter. Physical pain becomes more pronounced. Even daily strife seems more apocalyptic. Eventually, the addiction gets tied into survival itself, deep in your limbic brain. Then you’re really screwed, because to dislodge it you’ve got to break that bond by pushing your insatiable to its be-all-end-all limit. Rock bottom isn’t a catch phrase; it’s a biological event.

Asking an addict to give up his/her insatiable of choice is asking them to live a life of less-than, of deliberate ‘missing out’, in a universe of mocking abundance. It’s counterintuitive and downright abusive. Because, as addiction alters the chemical landscape of the brain, what used to be enough… just isn’t. Not doing drugs, or even not wanting to do drugs isn’t the answer. An addict must be coached how to rehabilitate their brain until they actually, on all levels of cognition and emotion, want to want not to do drugs. How? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but stay tuned to upcoming posts for some innovative Blank Canvas Living ideas, techniques, and exercises.

I believe Peaches Geldof, an admitted perfectionist with a creative brain prone to obsessiveness (documented eating disorders and – well intentioned – attachment parenting), was looking for her Secret Garden. And in this society, aren’t we all? For Peaches, a lifetime of unhealthy observed and inherited brain patterns, exaggerated by addiction, kept leading her back to heroin – the universal good mother. It wasn’t supposed to kill her, just give her a break, a rest, an ugly-edged bliss in a viable world that must have left her feeling constantly on-edge, never good enough. I don’t blame her. Not because she had a disease, but because she never knew she could create a choice.

Books vs eReaders: A writer’s argument

Books vs eReadersSweating under the old Ra-born Egyptian sun, workers beat together layers of cross-layed papyrus… A medieval lamb is slaughtered and stretched into vellum for an illuminated manuscript (so often immortalizing another Lamb)… In Gutenberg’s press, each letter, carrying its own weight, brands its ink deep into the page… With 48 words, I have just given you 26 minutes of my life. My words are not cheap. Some writers thrill in the process, but I’m not one of those 2AM keystroke masturbators. Sure, I’ve let out the occasion (brutally embarrassing!) orgasmic coffee shop exaltation when a chapter comes together. But for a sensory creature like myself, translating an entire viable world of colours, tastes, and textures into incremental contrasts of black and white is an exhausting exercise in intellectual masochism. So why bother? I write because I have to. Without this medium, I am alone in my ideas; I become mute, a helpless slave to a poorly fitting paradigm that leaves me badly blistered by the end of every workday. I’m writing to escape this cold little office and the passive, slow death it represents. OK, admittedly I’m having a bit of a shitty day here at work – let’s get back on topic. I work because I have to, because I love a man who is everything except a sugar daddy. And I write because I love myself enough to know that this is not enough. I want. I want!! When I climb down after taking my fill of pleasure from that man, I can’t help but revel in naughty glee that my love has left its marks. I was here. I took. I gave. I loved! Throughout our history, words have been born of passion and violence in both form and function. And now what? We take our fill and then turn off the screen? Blank. Nothing. No evidence of our pleasure. No reciprocation of value by the offering of space on a shelf. A denial of value and a denial of time… a denial of ourselves. When you take away the value of words, you take away their power to change. I want my books to remember me. I want to leave them sweaty, ‘red’, and desperate for air – the way they leave me. I want the responsibility for their care and ownership. I want to hold their futures in my hands. And I want them to feel time the way I do, because my own words cost me so much. I want my books wrinkled and scarred, with wayward bugs entombed and immortalized between their pages. But what if you go on vacation? Isn’t an eReader so much more convenient? Since when have words been about convenience?! The last time I opened an Agatha Christie, a small dribble of cottage sand spilled out onto my pillow. I rubbed it between my fingers as I flipped the pages and drank in my paperback’s delicious, comfortable mustiness. Suddenly I was back on the beach, savouring an old friend page by page, memory by memory. Yes, with an eReader or tablet, a Kobo or Kindle, you can bring an entire library with you on vacation, but it only takes one real book to bring the beach back home. I rest my case.

Are you a Neal Cassady or a Jack Kerouac?

Neal Cassady Jack KerouacHumanity, at its most raw, is heroic. We celebrate those among us who live the glamour of our extremes and brave the consequences. When sensations and emotions are freed from social conventions to engage with the paradoxical poles of existence in an honest dialogue… well, you get On The Road.

Jack Kerouac typed his seminal Beat scroll in three mad benzedrine fuelled weeks in 1951 after seven years riding alongside its hero, Dean Moriarty – his friend Neal Cassady. Through chronicling Cassady’s untamed (let’s be honest – adolescent) humanity, Kerouac became our hero. For more than 50 years we’ve been wanking off to Kerouac’s rhythmic angst and Cassady’s inspirational intensities. But what happens to our heroes?

Jack Kerouac drank himself to death hiding away with his mother. Neal Cassady stumbled into oblivion… literally! Words have caught them at their most luminous, in that one brief brilliance when an exceptional adult intellect can sing true to its child’s soul, before the brain is forced to mature or push its truths into death. Awful, really.

Sensitive? Overwhelmed? Are you a Neal Cassady or a Jack Kerouac? Do you live your extremes or document them? Do you give of yourself, or your production? The pain is the same, and the joy, but the difference is what is offered up to time and to the broader human system. But here’s the thing. Our heroes don’t give a shit – not about legacy, humanity, or even (through legacy and humanity) immortality. Their brains care about feeling good and whatever story supports that truth – just like ours. But fame and fortune don’t matter to our heroes, social awards and ‘doing the right thing’ don’t feed or sustain – that’s why they’re our heroes!

Maybe we don’t have to choose. Maybe there’s another way. What if we make the exploration of our humanity the article of production? What if the act of life without limits becomes a chronicle in real-time that can only exist with continued participation of that life? What if we take Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle into our own systems? What if “look what I did” becomes “look what I am”? What if we let the act of writing, the mood of the day, even the choice of outfit, build our stories?

What if we dare to become our heroes?

A politically incorrect rant against collaboration

office orgyAre two heads better than one? How about three? Or five hundred? Almost everything we touch, taste, see, hear, and even smell, is a product of multiple minds meeting in the middle. We live in a globalized culture of collaboration… a world of compromise. At all stages, from concept to marketplace, any new idea must survive countless negotiations and push backs. Logic and personality are our best weapons when battling for an innovation, but both are subjective and eat up substantial time and energy – along with team building, group brainstorming, meetings… meetings… AAAAAAAARG!

We can’t escape collaboration. Heck, conception is the ultimate collaboration and none of us would be here without that! But we’ve got to take a break from the office orgies! We’ve lost touch with the private, primitive urge to create independently – just for the hell of it. Social media and globalization have linked value to multiplicity – whether in ‘Likes’ received, dollars earned, or people converted. But stop. Just stop. Stop letting other people design your world.

With such an overwhelming breadth of new products and creative productions coming at us 24/7, we’re becoming desensitized to individual acts of self-expression, especially our own! But how do we resist the seductive fact that collaboration naturally produces idealized forms – Plato would be so pleased! We now need trainers, masseuses, uniform designers… to score a single hockey goal. A piece of clothing is nothing until it’s dressed up by models, makeup artists, photographers, and airbrushers. This progression to idealization is, of course, perfectly natural and predictable from a neurological standpoint. But why be a slave to your brain when it guts the value of your uniquely imperfect humanity?

We’re a competitive species, for resources, mates, and ego actualization. But how do we compete, head to head, with 7 billion people! Go back 30 000 years… one man… a dozen shells… one necklace. His personal tribal contribution was sacred and precious. Every moment he spent on the task reinforced his own value to himself and to his tribe. Does working a shit job to afford a Louis Vuitton purse really provide the same validation? Why do you think one is never enough? Look how fast our purchases become our insatiables. This is what happens when we lose connection with our individual ability to express our humanity as tangible sensory creations. But there’s hope. Let’s collaborate across time, not in time. Take the gift of the tools (farming, technology, etc.) designed by minds who have come before us, and start small…

Exercise in Engagement: Bring the system boundary back down to the surface of your skin, breathe, then stretch it out to the volume of your kitchen – nothing and no one else exists. You must be your own validation in this moment. Forage for ingredients and dare to build the most personal sandwich possible with what you find. Doesn’t have to be perfect, healthy, or follow any Food Network rules. Screw Plato! Explore the experience of this sandwich with each one of your senses, one at a time, then all together in a moment of total engagement. This sandwich is you because you made it without compromise or negotiation and because (not to be too graphic here) it will literally become you in a matter of hours. Now go forth and conquer!

Charisma, intimacy, and the one night stand handshake

charismatic historical figuresI love you. Can you see it in my eyes? Can you feel it in my handshake? I am completely yours. We are each other’s fascination. But only for this moment… There are so many articles and books written about “how to learn to be charismatic.” You know the drill: eye contact, total attention, body language angles, clear purpose, get your target talking about themselves, etc. Since the brain is coded to assign meaning to situational symbols, using the symbols of love and devotion can be particularly effective, and dangerous.

But the charismatic’s instant intimacy is too easy. Russell Brand’s flirtations seduce, then abandon. Politicians (in this case Canada’s own Pierre Elliot Trudeau) take advantage of their one night stand handshakes. But, like Norma Jean riding the subway incognito then stepping onto the platform and, with only a hair toss and a wiggle, becoming Marilyn Monroe, it’s just too darn easy.

Sure, I’ve played the game. I went from a shy teenager fretting about where to look in high school hallways to a twenty-something who loved going out dancing by herself – in baggy jeans and sneakers! – and would own the floor. Of course the long blonde hair helped (and still does), but there were always hotter chicks with bigger boobs teetering around the club. Total confidence was the key, knowing that even when I made a complete ass of myself (which sometimes people let me get away with, and sometimes decidedly not) I would always forgive myself and plow fearlessly, joyously, even if oftentimes a little sheepishly, into the next song.

Classically, charisma is a genetic trait, but unique in that it can also be a learned skill. Both sources can lead to its being purposed for good or evil. How do we differentiate between the Mother Teresas and the Charles Mansons? But the more pertinent question is how do we prevent ourselves from being seduced by the charismatics who may be sincerely curious and caring, but whose one night stand involvement in our lives can spin our worlds into chaos.

True intimacy is earned intimacy, and that takes time. What also takes time to foster, grow, and mature is the adult version of total confidence: unrelenting compassion, directed both inwards and outwards. It can only come when you’ve found your place in the universe and are brave enough to accept it fully, and with gratitude. Charisma then comes from a deeper, timeless source and the original definition of the word takes hold – whatever your faith or system of beliefs. People will be drawn to you because you’ll have found a center, one that pulls in other worlds with a gravity all its own.

Have we all gone mad?

Healthy choice general tso chicken steamerBefore every revolution there is a tipping point, a fine line in the sand that heralds the inevitability of a cultural paradigm shift. Fanatics are rebranded as leaders, and past leaders as fools. Today that line was crossed, not tiptoed over, but jumped across with both feet landing solid on the other side, no turning back.

‘General Tso’s Spicy Chicken Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamer’ – The name of today’s lunch provided more of a mouthful than the paltry 300 calorie, sodium loaded, mockery of sustenance contained inside. Now, I’m a woman habituated to a culinary culture that has us all walking around with salt-licks hanging around our necks. And I’ve been desensitized to the inhumanity of chemistry lab ingredient lists. I can overlook the fact that out of the 73 words appearing in this “Healthy Choice” ingredient list, 35 of those words – including all available forms of parentheses ([{}]) – are dedicated exclusively to “cooked seasoned chicken chunks.” Whatever.

As we become further removed from the growing and processing of food, we are also being increasingly separated by physical barriers. More layers to tear through and discard in the form of packaging. This is more than poetic metaphor – this is f*&^ing ridiculous!! The packaging on ‘General Tso’s Spicy Chicken Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamer’ has crossed over into the kind of cultural exaggeration on par with Marie Antoinette’s sky high wigs and WWE wrestling. Has the whole world gone mad! One use, 300 calories – cardboard box, thick plastic bowl, inner plastic steamer tray, plastic sealed top… is nobody else seeing the insanity here???

general tsoThe average human would have to eat a whopping 7 of these ‘Gourmet Steamers’ to meet their daily calorie requirements. Which, beyond cost and nearly doubling our daily sodium needs, would create a mountain of trash big enough to completely bury poor General Tso and stop him from ever objecting to this appalling (on so many levels) bastardization of his namesake.

Our wastefulness has officially crossed over into the obscene. We jack ourselves up on caffeine with single serving cups/lids/stirrers/sugars/creamers. And bottled water!! Buy a f*&%ing filter people!! Convenience, once a glamour, has become an insatiable. We guzzle energy with a gluttony that would make Caligula blush for shame. I live in Calgary, Canada’s pick-up truck capital, and am constantly dodging out of the path of these behemoths. They harness the power of hundreds of horses and thousands of pounds of metal/rubber/glass, but the only load I ever see them hauling is a few inches of penis and a couple of fleshy nuggets riding shotgun below. There certainly can’t be any brains on board!

I am no fanatic, but maybe I’m fool enough to believe that we can all be heralds to this cause. The madness has to stop. I pledge to forward this post to ConAgra Foods, the makers of ‘General Tso’s Spicy Chicken Healthy Choice Gourmet Steamer’, one week from today (Aug. 7th) along with the total number of Likes and Comments received on this blog post (and the same post on Blank Canvas Living’s Facebook page or Twitter). Let’s join hands and jump over that line together, and into the bright new paradigm beyond!

UPDATE (Aug. 7th): As promised, I’ve forwarded this post on to ConAgra Foods and will keep you posted as to their response. Thank you for all your likes and comments!

UPDATE (Aug. 15th): I’ve posted ConAgra’s response in the comment section below. In rebuttal: If the only available solution to a problem is one that has destructive consequences, in this case to the environment, I think we really need to ask ourselves if we have defined a problem worth solving. In this case the ‘problem’ was choosing a material for a one-use microwave safe steamer tray. Do we, as a society, really ‘need’ a one-use microwave safe steamer tray? And if we, as a society, decide that the answer is “yes,” then maybe the root problem lies within the very nature of that society. Which I believe, is the definition of a problem worth solving!

Inside the process of how story and math change our world

historical geniusesHeisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies equally to particles, parabolas, and prose. To describe – which is the common goal of any story or mathematical formula – is to influence the object of observation. Our reflection of reality becomes our measure of the world. isaac newton caricatureBut while Heisenberg’s electrons were thrown off course by photons, the change in our reality is essentially rooted in perception. And because perception is our brain’s only way of interacting with the universe, a change in perception equals a change in our world.

Truth is variable according to our experiences. Our experience of ideas, concepts, and proofs come together to pattern our perception of the truth of our reality. ernest hemingway caricatureWhen not individualized through direct sensory exposure, this ‘experience’ is communicated to our neural networks through a language of symbol: story through words, math through numbers. Both math and literature humanize a universe fraught with chaos by translating it into patterns of information compatible with the structure and function of our brains.

The only difference between story and math is the path of emotional access. Both words and numbers are symbols loaded with meaning and expectation of pattern of connection (eg. sentence structure/ B.E.D.M.A.S.). albert einstein caricatureHowever, words have broader associations and are linked with emotions that, when activated, open and extend our logic parameters to create new suspended realities. We can choose to incorporate these new worlds into our own (The Globe and Mail, religion, this post) or simple abandon them when we get to the last page (fiction, Calgary Sun). Mathematical symbols have a much stricter pattern of expectation that, upon entering the brain, must first be vetted by the logic system in our prefrontal cortex before giving us an emotional response/release in the form of soothing contentment (eg. simple beauty of E=mc2), or that sick feeling you get in your stomach when a formula turns out to be bullshit (eg. string theory… don’t get me started!).

virginia woolf caricatureInterchangeable except for path of emotional access, every story and mathematical formula use a shared humanized language of symbol to communicate novel patterns of perception that, if adopted as truth, change our world.

10 things I learned about being human watching Jurassic Park 3D with my 10 year old self

jurassic park t rex
1) Twenty years ago, I entered Jurassic Park with a child’s imagination. There was no separation between theater and jungle world. It looked real. It felt real. Two decades of memory and dreams recorded the story as a fully dimensioned sensory and emotional immersion. As an adult watching Steven Spielberg’s 3D redux, there is no flattening, no muting of the experience. This is time travel. This is magic, because I’m watching my favourite movie again for the very first time.

2) John Williams’ musical score sends me soaring with an emotional rise heightened by layers of memory… It’s 7:30AM at an Ottawa high school band practice, and I’m playing the flute part of the score. With sudden joy, I realize I’m learning to take myself, with my own hands, to the same peaks of pleasure I’d thought only others could carry me.

3) Malcolm’s musings, mere gibberish to my 10 year old self, now echo my own hard-won philosophical conclusions. Shit, taking him at his word could have saved me 20 years! But no, I’ve worked even harder to preserve (and integrate) Grant’s knee-weakening wonderment at seeing the brachiosaurus. Malcolm and his pessimism can stay in the Jeep. True wisdom can only be found off-road, when you follow your imagination into the fresh cool grass beyond.

4) Watching Nedry’s embryo shaving cream bottle buried in the preserving mud, my 10 year old self was ecstatic. The story wouldn’t end with the movie! Here was a way to more, and more, always more! And there was more, but like The Matrix, the two sequels blasphemed the original. I know now that life is a moment, one breath, one bag of popcorn – by the bottom you’re parched and your lips are chapped, and you wish wish wish you had savoured every kernel with the same exaltation of the first buttery bliss.

5) Muldoon and his knee socks will ever and always be one sexy beast.

6) Nestled in the theatre – like Grant, Lex, and Tim in their tree – with my own younger brother and hero father, I felt the same comfortable confidence in the safety of our eternity. I feel a pang of grief for my 10 year old self. She had find out that Lex was right, that sometimes our heroes leave us and fly to head new stories. And we must learn to rescue our own. Because, ultimately, ‘happily ever after’ is a dynamic state of being.

7) After watching Jurassic Park countless times and reading Michael Chrichton’s (masterpiece) book twice, enough time has gone by to corrupt source memory and the 3D version is a 3-dimensional conglamorate of present experience and two mixed/matched histories. The archtypal characters critizied in the first movie suddenly become fully fleshed internally/eternally contradicting human beings. Male/female (Lex/Tim) complexities and layers of interwoven alternate plot points transform the experience into a dream-like back and forth between conflicting realities. Like Malcolm, Carl Jung was a fool. Categories are butterflies pinned under a frame. “Life finds a way”, but only as undulating change through time.

8) I feel a certain envy for my 10 year old self. Her child’s brain easily gestalted over any breaks in continuity and plot/character inconsistencies. My adult brain, so trained and practiced in picking through patterns, finds suspended disbelief harder and harder, especially being a writer. I can’t help missing my ability to commit to flowing through a story purely by faith.

9) To my 10 year old self, Laura Dern’s Ellie was the epitamy of womanhood: intelligent, beautiful, funny, and kind. As I fell in love with my husband 10 years later, to Laura Dern’s husband Ben Harper’s song “When She Believes”, it was a reawakening of eternities. When my ideal woman’s love story fell apart with Harper, I was forced to give up another grasp at idealist innocence. But watching this movie reminded me of all I’ve gained. I may not have Dern’s legs, but I live, then and now, by Dr. Satler’s optimistic curiousity. I own the power to create my own stories and sustain them through time. I will never stop believing, in my loves, in my heroes, and in myself.

10) Ritual, by definition, strengthens through time. A movie theater, a bag of popcorn, my escape into another world for a full (if quantized) lifetime, gives as much pleasure to my 30 year self as it did when I was 10 years old. Though the intellectual experience has evolved, the emotions are as rich and savoury as ever. So get yourself a center seat, turn off your cellphone, and keep close your own most precious rituals. And don’t ever be afraid to give yourself over fully to their magic. Your inner child will thank you!

jurassic park colouring book pic