Category: Life


Horses for Courses

I got a chance to go horseback riding last week. Growing up in Caledon, the opportunity to ride was everywhere–but for some reason, I never made the introduction. Perhaps because it was seen as an unnecessary expense? Or something no one ever thought would be a priority?

Well, as it turned out, the experience of driving up to Uxbridge ended up being purely magical. We learned the ropes in a safe, graduated way, got an amazing ride on picturesque trails and then truly bonded with the animals.

Petting the horse

Except for those from our group who had experience riding, none of us knew what to expect. It’s hard not to feel a little anxiety, but achieving a “first” means you’re having an adventure. The fact that the darkened skies kept spelling rain also put us in a different spot.

When it was time to step up and mount “Latte,” my aptly named/paired horse, I felt unease and a total lack of familiarity with the beast. This animal could have bucked me off with relative ease and made no bones about showing me he knew what was up.

Me and Latte

Out of everyone in our group, my horse seemed to be the lone non-conformist, refusing to line up facing the exit. I tried to turn him using the method we were shown, and he just didn’t respond.

“Let him know you’re in charge,” suggested someone.

I relaxed, and lo and behold, Latte began to respond, taking his place near the front of the line. During the last part of the trail ride, I really began to enter that quiet, contemplative head space–a place that is harder to access living in the city.

***

Inside the house

What we all learned was that animals are easily spooked. Especially prey animals that have learned to avoid humans for their survival.

Still, the process of bonding with a horse can be incredibly rewarding. They learned to trust us and we all learned to care about each other.

In the end, it was harder than you can imagine to watch that farm disappear in the rear-view mirror. Truth be told? We knew we were leaving a part of ourselves behind.

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Scar Tissue

Do you remember the Red Hot Chili Peppers song Scar Tissue?

Scar tissue that I wish you saw
Sarcastic Mister know it all
Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you ’cause
With the bird I’ll share
With the bird I’ll share
This lonely view
With the bird I’ll share
This lonely view

This is the song you listen to and wish that other people could understand via telepathy. But telepathy doesn’t exactly exist, and what ends up happening over and over again is that people are misunderstood.

Maybe the RHCP are asking something else, “If people knew the source of a person’s pain, could they forgive?”

We get a rich tapestry illustrating this through Chili’s vocalist Anthony Keidis in his 2005 autobiography Scar Tissue. Co-written by veteran biographer Larry Sloman, the book traces Anthony’s life emerging from his parent’s fragmented marriage to success as a child actor into tumultuous years in the LA music scene.

There are never any hints that Anthony is fated for the big time with the RHCP. If you look carefully, it’s a telling more about the ephemeral nature of moments in life itself than someone charting the ever-cliched “meteoric rise to the top.”

As the Chili’s make their foothold into mass consciousness, Anthony experiences the highest of highs: an extravagant home, beautiful admirers and picturesque vacation spots. He also must contend with spiritual erosion from the toxic nature of the world itself.

Past the band’s antics, there’s something deeper at work here that resonates deeply: People (including myself) are sometimes quick to judge others. Do we look at ourselves with that same critical lens? Anthony rarely displaces blame elsewhere, although he has many sharp (accurate) observations about others.

Nowhere is this made more clear than the section telling us the story behind the classic Under the Bridge that originated from Keidis’s feeling of being distanced from his own band.

If Anthony Keidis teaches us anything, it’s that his truth is something internal. In the end, we don’t fully understand because he’s always holding that 25 percent back from the reader. The people who fully understand him are the ones who are (or were) already in his life.

In Scar Tissue, he’s given us something much more magical, a story that continues to create associations and memories long after the pages have stopped turning. He delivers essential truths.

Whether you’re reading the book or listening to the music, audiences can interpret the message for their own design.

 

 

Escape Rooms

Right now, the concept of an “Escape Room” is very popular with people. I’ve done two so far, and wanted to recap some of the lessons I learned. In particular, the importance of recognizing patterns.

For those that don’t know, an escape room is a place where you are put into locked rooms and fed clues that allow you to progress into eventually leaving the room. They are meant to be solvable, but usually contain a high degree of difficulty.

The first time I went into an escape room, I quickly found the key that released us from our handcuffs. Then we began looking for clues. One person assumed a leadership role and began trying to decipher some cryptic writing on the wall.

When they failed to figure out the puzzle, we called for help. That’s when we all learned that the writing on the wall had nothing to do with the next step. The person was ascribing meaning to things where it didn’t actually exist. This happened again and again during the game, until we ran out of time and essentially lost.

This can happen to anyone. There’s a good Terminator: Sara Connor Chronicles episode called Strange Things Happen at the One Point Two where Sara drags her team through a lot of unnecessary danger because she gives meaning to three dots. I won’t spoil the episode, but it’s a good metaphor for what I’m trying to explain here.

Generally, to move forward, you have to see key information and base conclusions off of it. Otherwise, you will be trapped over and over by things that aren’t actually there.

I learned my lesson, and the next time I was in an escape room, I assumed the leadership role among my team. This time, we came through in flying colors and I was ecstatic that we escaped. We would have had a good time regardless, but sometimes, it’s nice to flex your problem-solving muscle among friends.

All it took to make it out of the situation was the ability to see what was really there. So whenever we’re confronted by obstacles or challenges, we have to ask ourselves, “What is really going on here?”. Our own biases may tell one story; the facts another; and others may layer on their own narrative.

Sometimes, people misinterpret the clues. This can happen to anyone, but it’s 100% on us to find a systematic approach so we get to our goals and are not waylaid or distracted. Once you know the truth–what things actually mean–you’re going to overcome challenges.

The exit is right there…and it’s been there all along.

Just wrapped up reading Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story by Arnold Schwarzenegger. I have so many thoughts on this wonderful book that it’s hard to contain them into a mere review. I suppose, like his life story itself, Arnold touches on four main areas of his personal success:

BODYBUILDING

Arnold explains how he became a multiple world bodybuilding champion by putting in the work and being extremely hard on himself. In one section, he is highly self-critical of his own body:

“I also had some shortcomings. Relative to my torso, my limbs were too long. So I was always having to build the arms and legs to make the proportions seem right. Even with massive twenty-nine-inch thighs, my legs still looked on the thin side. My calves fell short compared to my thighs, and my triceps fell short compared to the biceps.”

This kind of direct, open honesty is rare, even in hindsight. Arnold actually solicited feedback from judges at bodybuilding competitions, telling them that he wouldn’t feel insulted by their feedback. What’s more, Arnold went to task, working on each of his weaknesses until he emerged triumphantly.

Total Recall

MOVIES

Hollywood is the hardest nut to crack in a world full of glittering opportunities. Arnold turns the tables completely by dismissing the people who said “You can’t do it because of the accent, your size, your nationality, your lack of theater experience, etc.”

Most interesting is how Arnold gives up concessions early on for his earliest movies–and later on reaps benefits by having detailed knowledge of contracts. Twins was a foray into comedy that always left an impression on me.

Some terrific insight into the hardcore nature of director James Cameron as they feverishly worked on the Terminator movies. There really are no prisoners in the film business, no stone left unturned and Arnold really got a hold of something magical through his efforts.

REAL ESTATE

Thanks to his math skills and careful research, Arnold invested in various properties that increased many times in value. Before he bought a home, he invested in an apartment building in the 70s. Even before Conan the Barbarian, Arnold’s investments contributed to a net worth of $1 million dollars.

His wise investment of income allowed him to take the right movie roles to get to where he wanted to go, rather than trying to fit in with wherever he was typecast.

POLITICS

Arnold really shines here as he explains his bipartisan initiatives to govern California. He takes the very best qualities of both parties and melds them into his own centrist politics.

While his two terms as Governor of California were marred with low approval ratings, we must examine the constitution of California, as well as the 2008 housing crash/recession as factors. Arnold had to take decisive action and he wasn’t going to win any popularity contests by challenging the status quo.

The only shame is that Arnold can’t run for president. He truly has a solid vision for where the USA should be headed with universal healthcare, budget reforms, environmental initiatives and just his people skills in general.

My recommendation: Buy this book. Arnold’s life lessons, strategies, tips and stories are incredibly valuable. A must-read.

 

As Communications/Marketing Coordinator for Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie (CLC), I get to meet many tremendous artists who walk into The Citadel on a regular basis. One of the absolute killer performances that CLC hosted was the sold-out run of dancer/choreographer Sabina Perry’s FUNNY/FUNERAL.

Sabina is a Cologne, Germany-based artist who has the unique backstory of going to 51 auditions without any success. She was just about ready to return home to Canada, but she had to follow-through with her 52nd audition first. Breathe easy, because she got the gig and was able to continue developing abroad.

funny-funeral-image-for-social-media-2

I managed to watch a preview of FUNNY/FUNERAL before it ran in April of this year. From the opening with Molly Johnson dancing to Morrissey’s “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” to the rapid series of one-liners Perry tells near the end, the show was wildly entertaining.

The first half of the show is a dance performance with Johnson showing fine control in synchronization with a perfectly-chosen selection of songs. The second half is Sabina Perry giving a fiery monologue that delved into ex-boyfriends, murder fantasies, orgasms and other edgy topics.

What Perry & Johnson did was special in that they took their performance to the absolute limit. They opened up as artists to capture electrifying moments of their lives as they nudged past their 20’s. They did it with style, class, wit and candor, drawing rapt applause from an ecstatic audience.

This show gets five stars out of five. Hopefully they remount in Toronto in the near future.

 

 

Preferred

I did the cover story on Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln for Preferred‘s winter issue. The zombie genre has been done and re-done, but Lincoln brings something unique to this telling.

Preferred

The Salt of the Earth

Sebastião Salgado is a renown Brazilian photographer who has his career explored in-depth in the 2014 documentary The Salt of the Earth. His subjects tended to revolve around his learning as an economist: workers, displaced people and others affected by the geopolitical forces.

The documentary gives his insightful glances into the artist within Salgado, like when he describes the method behind his portrait photography, “The strength of a portrait is that in that split second, we understand a little the life of the person photographed. The eyes speak volumes, the expression of the face. When you do a portrait, it is not you alone who takes the picture. The person offers a photo.”

Seal calves

Some of his images can only evoke sadness and despair, something Salgado fell into after witnessing the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The Salt of the Earth does not hide the terrible truths of the human condition.

Despite all this, there is hope for the future. The documentary ends on a positive note as Salgado finds a way to “undo time.” Perhaps that’s what photography does–capturing moments in eternity, while simultaneously, we must acknowledge that some moments are lost forever.

 

Hospital Visits and Perspective

I’ve been making the rounds at Bridgepoint Active Healthcare to see a friend. It’s described as a “complex cares and rehabilitation center hospital.”

The first time I came by to see him, I noted his roommate, an elderly gentleman who we’ll call “Nigel.” Nigel wanted to know why I was building my friend up (I was reminding him of the great things he’d done and the great things he was going to do when he was out of the hospital).  It’s got to be understood without saying that positive thinking helps people heal.

There was another moment where I really caught the essence of Nigel’s thought process. He was staring out the window, looking at some people waiting for the bus and moaning, “Everyone else is out there.” Yes, out there doing things, leading active lives and moving on. At least from his fifth floor window perception.

Nigel was confined to a wheelchair when he got out of bed and confined to the hospital due to some sort of brain injury or memory problem. His wife and other family members came to visit him on a regular basis, but as soon as he was alone, self-doubt and self-pity surfaced.

I’m not here to say what’s right or what’s wrong. Were any of us in Nigel’s precarious position, perhaps we’d have similar thoughts as he experiences. It’s a lot to handle, being hospitalized indefinitely. And yet Nigel probably had some really good years when he was younger. He’d had the same chances as the people waiting for the bus.

The point is, we all get our chances. That’s why we have to make the most of them when we can. Forget other people, forget comparisons, forget judging people from afar. Just act with intention and commitment today, because that might be all we ever have.

Mental Confidence

Many factors come into play when discussing success. Some will point to a superior educational pedigree. Others to inherent class advantages. Some like to chalk it up to luck. And then there are those who talk about cognitive patterns that are hardwired into us–obviously, that’s my preference.

We are conditioned into our mindset by those around us and other environmental stimuli.

As the quote goes from Good Will Hunting, “Most people never get to see how brilliant they can be. They don’t find teachers that believe in them. They get convinced they’re stupid.”

I won’t get into the debate over which type of teacher, professor or coach is ideal– authoritarian, authoritative or hands-off. But I will make the bold suggestion that if certain types of people don’t mesh with your goals, perhaps it’d be better to move in separate directions.

In a great article from ExpertBoxing.com on the Mindset of a Champion, the author talks about how our relationships are key to success. Some common pitfalls are listed:

The worst thing you can do is start throwing negativity into relationships before they’ve even been established. Talking behind someone’s back. Arguing with people over nothing. Letting jealousy affect your ability to be professional/courteous/polite. Maintaining or allowing negative relationships and people to stay in your life is another mistake.

No matter how talented someone is, no matter how much potential they have, they can be brought down to the level of mediocrity or non-achievement without the right people around them. The bad attitudes of others rub off and surface as bad habits in you.

Formula One champion Nigel Mansell devotes a page in his autobiography on how himself and his wife actively distanced themselves from friends who were overtly negative about his embryonic efforts in Formula Ford (a feeder league for Formula One):

There were people whom we hardly ever saw, but if something went wrong they would come up to us and say, ‘I could have told you about that. I could have told you that wouldn’t work.’ It’s amazing how many people we’ve run into with that attitude.

Mansell goes on to say that if these people were more constructive in their approach, their opinions would have been palatable.

I have a cousin who has always been negative to me since my childhood. She’s older by about 7-8 years, so perhaps a false sense of superiority or smug condescension blossomed with the age gap. While I couldn’t imagine going up to her and criticizing her prospects at her office job, she’s always had “smart” things to say about writing, journalism and the arts.

I find it ludicrous that this kind of person presents themselves as a direct impediment to mental confidence and then complains when communication breaks down. Worse still is when someone with no context or background in an area wants to pontificate as an expert on the subject material.

As the article from ExpertBoxing.com states, I don’t need an army of ‘Yes-Men’ to fluff false confidence and agree with everything that I do. But I also certainly don’t need prolonged exposure to toxic opinions that offer no benefit to me whatsoever. And neither does anyone else.

Zero to Hero

One of my favorite scenes from The Sopranos is where Tony starts questioning his entire life– asking “How did I get here?” instead of selling pots and pans in China. Being a sociopath, he finds a way to dismiss any attempt to actually change his life. Worse still, those around him–notably, Meadow–get sucked into the family business.

Still, this begs the question about whether things could have turned out differently. What if Tony had been born into a Norman Rockwell-type family scene? Not suggesting he’d be happy, but certainly, he wouldn’t be caught up in a life of criminal activity.

Of course, it doesn’t matter where Tony Soprano grew up or who he became. As a fictional character, or even looking at real life examples, people want to believe they have the option of choice. Rags to riches, or so they say. If you’re in the majority of people who wasn’t born into the good life, could you condition yourself into someone who has it today?

As artists, creative types and writers, we put ourselves in positions, each and everyday. The outcome is always guaranteed before anything takes place because we know the maximum potential that a project entails. We enter into that contract knowing the pitfalls, drawbacks and rewards.

All of this being said, for Tony Soprano, there’s only the next score. For Sopranos creator David Chase, there’s only the next project. And for myself, well, with the right approach, the sky’s the limit.