Making a change? Welcome to the void…


What if you woke up in the pure, exquisite knowledge that every decision you’d ever made had been wrong? Because they led you here, where every moment is either an agony or an escape. Would you have the courage to call out to your tribe? Would they welcome you? Would they even recognize you after you’ve been gone so long?

Within the human experience, change can be defined as the process of altering our attentions. An attention is simply information (internal or external stimuli) that your brain has learned to recognize as a component of influence in your current system state. From noticing the very literal difference in wavelength between traffic lights to feeling the change in a lover’s heartbeat, our interpretations and responses to these attentions shape and colour our worlds.

So… change?

The ridiculously limited, but delightfully human, scope of our attentions finds its closest analogy in the electromagnetic spectrum, where what we see as visible light is proportionally infinitesimal when considered against the vast universal spectrum of wavelengths. Because our current attentions create our worlds, and since we can only model our experience on a tiny selection slice of the grand universe at any given time, we have a hell of a lot of worlds to chose from. But is it choice? Can we manually change our attentions?

Yes. But it will challenge every part of your being. And like the spectrum, when you step out of the habitual, what your brain has been trained to see, we step blind into true nothingness – the end of reward. This is the vast unfathomable, and the horror is real. We all know it; we’ve all reached out and cowered at its coldness, its meanness. But this is the only way back to your tribe. Welcome to the void…

Read the next post… Why risk the void?

Beyond freedom…

ultimate beach

Freedom, pushed to its purity, becomes the opposite of its definition. I have tested freedom, bravely or foolishly – I’m still not sure. I have followed every low limbic permission to its end expression – and nearly my own. I have walked alone, naked, on the shores of a lost lake deep in the woods of Quebec – without my glasses. And in that freedom, that genetic honesty, I chilled with the recognition of our true vulnerability. Our bodies, our little eddies of friction in the flow of the universe have not evolved to support this freedom.

We court it, muse on its promises and expansiveness. But pure freedom – the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint – isolates, shrinks our viable worlds smaller and smaller as our system rejects our constructs: social rules, orders of perception, paradigm dependent value hierarchies… Want, taken down to its base, the very literal center of our brains, is so dangerous we have evolved entire neural structures to wrap it and protect us from its lethal motivations.

On the shores of that lake, I felt for the first time the need of other bodies, other brains, other eyes to guide and protect my own. What did I reach out for from freedom? With a child’s eager fingers… I reached for love.

Love is beyond freedom. This primal connection brings multiple worlds of perception into parallel, not by force, but by desire, by want. What drives us towards freedom saves us from its endgame. If you live through freedom, if you survive it, you know that even love is a choice. A choice between men, between women, becomes quite simply a choice between worlds, between selves. There is no right or wrong.

Let’s go beyond freedom, bravely and foolishly – together.

Why a craving is our most intimate human experience

screaming faceI can barely form this sentence – I want! – my mind has no patience for language – I need! All words have been conscripted in service of a craving and my executive functions are shutting down. Just as frostbitten fingers are first to have their blood siphoned away, this cold Calgary morning has redirected all my neurotransmitters to the same goal – survival. There is a fine chemical line between want and need, but once crossed, once the neural trench has been dug too deep, any stimulus will drive our energies raging down the gorge.

Because life is wild terror. Any handhold can quickly become our only handhold. But the universe, beyond us, within us, is bliss. Abandon our bodies to the flow and we join heaven. Why the hell do you think all those bald giggling monks dress alike in orange robes? Because clothes don’t matter. Hair doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, because everything matters.

But right now, caught in this blind flurry, only I matter. A craving is our most intimate human experience because suddenly all our frictions and asymmetries align and recalibrate towards one solid, if impossible, goal: survival through satisfaction. And I’m sitting here bargaining. Even this post is an act of selfish desperation. Despite the risks to ‘living the dream’ and ‘rebranding a marriage’, I made a deal to get my want (or has it already become a need?) in exchange for writing the experience of its craving. An experiment? A literary test? Rationalizations are rarely rational.

I know the biological mechanism, the science, and it’s appallingly simple. All the chemical jargon can be summarized into one clear pragmatic truth of our perception: denial of a craving is to live a life of ‘less than’.

This is, of course, bullshit of the highest order. But big-picture logic is clearly not part of this thought process. Once you’ve had sex everything else becomes foreplay. Once you’ve pushed into peak pleasures, be it anal (debatable), base jumping, or a Little-Caesars-cheesy-sauce-pretzel-crust-pizza while royally stoned – what then?buddhism desire cartoonI’m drowning in my most basic biology – sweaty palms, heart racing. But if I am a fool, I am one of the grand old fools. Because I have tasted heaven, and it wasn’t enough. I put in the years, escaped my ego, lifted my arms and have been swept up into the swirl. I am bliss. And so are you. But is isn’t enough; nothing is ever enough. Because we cannot exist without the raw ache of this moment, it is our genetic hold on time.

I cling to its narrow icy ledge, my fingernails tearing, bleeding, as it melts away. Today, there is no temperate observer, no cognitive separation from (and thereby negotiation with) ego. There is only Cymbria, weak, wanting, and determined. I love her. And of all of the stupid things I’ve done for love, today will hardly even register on the scale (more bargaining?).

And now I’ve glamourized this temporal lust beyond all chemical proportion. So much so that its absurdity is shocking, not to mention embarrassing – especially if you knew what I was craving. But still, I thrill to the submission. It will not satisfy. I will pay, as I’ve paid so many times before, along with all my other loves. But I don’t care. Because in this moment only I matter. And because orange is so not my colour… and, damn it, I have great hair!

Rebranding a Marriage: Change the game this Valentine’s Day

valentines symbols loveMarried to a man? Congratulations. They’re really quite durable and can put up with a heck of a lot. And it’s always nice to have something warm and solid to lean against whilst one ties one’s shoes. Married to a woman? Double congratulations. Through the grace of our exotic majesty you are invited to bear witness to the sublime… and that’s just before breakfast.

But no matter how auspicious its beginnings, any marriage can benefit from an in-house corporate review this Valentine’s Day. It’s been a dozen years since my man and I eloped to Niagara Falls (5 months after meeting – crazy kids) on the day of the great August 2003 blackout. Because nothing says auspicious like the entire eastern seaboard going dark to toast your wedding! Under the soft glow of candlelight, as I dressed in my handsewn stretch eyelet sheath, I held my breath for happily ever after…

…gasp… wheeze… are we there yet?…

Every freakin’ day!! But tragically, turns out the definition of “happy” is a bastard to change. Twelve years of “happily” gorging our bodies, seeding and feeding our temptations (those Reese cupcakes were criminally delish!) – with only timid, noncommittal scratchings at future responsibilities – have left us battered. Not since the vomitoriums of Rome and riotous Viking longhouses has a love nest produced two such perfectly reflective Dorian Grays. But how do you drag a couple of unapologetically stubborn, violently hedonistic individualists into the future? How do you change the menu and bring something new to the table without compromising the flavour of our extremes? How do you evolve happiness? Kicking and screaming, that’s how, while trying to keep the raping and pillaging to a manageable minimum.
rebranding a marriageIf your relationship is stalling, stagnating, or just ripe for a revamp, join me this Valentine’s Day and make a pledge to change the game. After being ‘temporarily’ laid off in Calgary’s oil and gas crunch, I’ve been living the dream as a less-than-tortured novelist. But woman cannot live or love on story alone. To keep my professional edge, I’ll be applying some basic business principles and personal branding strategies to my most important real-time partnership – my marriage.

But I have to warn you. This is not a ‘cuddle jar’, namby pamby, inspirational bit of nonsense. Because – let me state this plainly – my Viking does not do cuddle jars. He does not do 5-steps-to-take-tonight, or notes in sock drawers. This is a pragmatic renegotiation of our contractual/cultural expectations. This is going to get ugly. Come on, it’s time to get down to business!

Read the next post in this Blank Canvas Living blog serial…
Writing a vision statement

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!