Monday 13 October 2008

Why I'm The Weird Guy in The Neighbourhood With The Green Party Signs

Dedicated to the person who stole my lawn signs, and anyone else who thought that might have been a good idea.

Sign of the Times
The other night, the big Green Party election signs hanging on both corners of our fence got stolen again. The neighbourhood, a fairly typical middle-class suburban one, is brimming with signs of Tory Blue and Liberal Red that never go missing. Naturally, being the inquisitive person I am, I am led to wonder why this is the case. I speculate that it's either a case of the signs being so rare as to have novelty value, or as being so philosophically incongruous to the surroundings as to incite political action, but I know that I can't really know that unless I know who stole the signs. So, in the hope that whoever it is who took the signs may someday have the occasion to read this, it is my pleasure to give you now my account of why I put them up.

Great Expectations
Once upon a time, I was preparing to become the Prime Minister of Canada. It wasn't just me, actually, everybody always told me I was going to be the Prime Minister of Canada. I had the knack early of being so political that, generally speaking, I was very good at getting people to like me. Whether that was because I was generally likable, or manipulative, didn't matter to me all that much at the time. My political destiny was a kind of mutual understanding - they believed me, and I believed them.

Birth of the Anti-Cool
When the time was right, sometime in late high school, I dutifully started down the path. I became a proud young Progressive Conservative, which at the time meant that the only thing I was really sure about was that I was against everything that Pierre Trudeau, one of Canada's most interesting political figures, stood for. In the environment I came from, Pierre Trudeau was bad because he was cool, intellectual and dangerous. So, because everyone I loved and listened to at the time was Conservative, and I wanted to be conversant with adults regarding such adult matters as politics, so was I. Although I might not have agreed at the time, this was not the product of soul-searching or rigorous debate, it was just about wanting my opinions to matter to adults.

Best-Laid Plans
If high school is the time to distance yourself from your parents, then I guess university is the time when you're supposed to start thinking for yourself. I was a little behind the curve on that one, but about a year into my Political Science degree at the University of Toronto, I actually did start to understand that. Up until that time, I was studying political science because that's what it made sense to do if you wanted to be a lawyer and then ascend through the ranks so that one day you could run the country. How could one so naive have known that, in studying how the game was actually played, I would learn anything that would threaten such a well-crafted plan?

Notable & Quotable
The problems started when all the people I liked and with whom I wanted to hang out weren't the kind of people I was meeting as part of the Progressive Conservatives. Perhaps if there had been a girl in the Tory sphere to fall for, things might have been different, but there wasn't. What I had started to realize was that most of the people in that crowd were little more than products of their circumstances, and had no real desire to be anything else. Not that there's anything wrong with that - it just clearly wasn't me. One of my more Liberal fellow political afficionados used to steal one of the best quotes I'd ever heard. "If you weren't a socialist in your twenties," he'd say, "you had no heart; if you were still a socialist in your thirties, you had no brain". He used this particular quote to set up and then disarm the whole Conservative argument, by arguing that the Liberals covered both, that to be a Liberal was to keep your heart but not at the expense of your brain. Having had by now significant exposure to both sides, I wasn't sure either one had a monopoly on the brain part.

A Kind of Freedom
Still, I wasn't going to give up my beliefs just because I wasn't particularly enamored of the people around me. I was deeper than that. If I couldn't find like-minded people to political party with, then I'd have to strike out on my own. It was clearly still too early to be doing any soul-searching, so my first step out of the political comfort zone was what many people would have considered a step even further to the right, although I never saw it in those terms. I became the campus' only Libertarian. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a Libertarian basically believes that good government is no government, that the private sector is a perfectly-formed self-regulating system that punishes misbehaviour with commercial failure and rewards good behaviour with commercial success. I even managed to wrangle a column in the campus newspaper where I could air my views. Believe it or not, I liked this system of thought not because it was elitist but because I really believed it wasn't. I really did believe that everyone had the ability and opportunity to be successful, and that even the obstacles that loomed largest could be overcome with ingenuity and effort.

The Impossible Dream
Somewhere around the time that I began to realize that that was a pretty ridiculous notion, I also began to realize that I might not actually want to be the Prime Minister. I can't actually remember if it was a particular event or person that caused me to realize that, or just common sense, but there were clearly some obstacles that were less surmountable than others. Perhaps it was continuously hearing from other members of my party the exact same words that I was used to hearing from their parents. Mt. Everest is climbable, but expecting someone with a pre-existing condition like asthma and a wooden leg to do it is to expect, if not the impossible, then at least an effort of mythic proportions. Just because it could be done didn't mean that everyone could do it. I still believed everyone had the right to stand on the summit and enjoy the view, or at least catch a ride to the trailhead of the path up the mountain, I just couldn't figure out how, for some people, that could ever happen without a little help.

So I did what those who have lost faith in existing entities always do when they don't think they have a better alternative - I began to make fun of them. The University ran an annual event called Mock Parliament, in which representatives of Canada's established political parties culled from among the student body at the school ran in elections and subsequently held a two-day parliament. The idea was both to give those interested in politics a forum in which to see what actual politics was like, complete with all the issues of the day, and to take the political pulse of the student body at the school. In my first year of University, I had participated with the Progressive Conservatives and quite enjoyed the whole thing. By the time the second year rolled around, I was in my sarcastic phase.

The Message
I placed a call to whomever it was at the university who was in charge of organizing the whole thing and asked if I could run a new party in the elections. I was informed that I could not run a party in the elections that did not have a corresponding political club at the University. So I started one, cobbled together a few charter members among my friends, and got us on the ballot. Everyone seemed quite surprised when we won somewhere around a quarter of the popular vote throughout the university. Everyone except me. My rationale was that, in the midst of a time of great change in the lives of students, there must have been quite a few of them who were looking for something new. This was university after all, and my "party" was little more than a protest party. If students at Kent State could put their lives on the line to send a message to the powers-that-be, the very least that a bunch comparitively well-off kids from north of the border could do was cast a vote for a protest party in a bogus election.

The Medium
We called ourselves Tommy Flanagan's Pathological Liars, after a popular Saturday Night Live character of the day, who lied about everything to make himself seem cool. To me, Tommy Flanagan represented the perfect icon for the politician gone wrong, who would say anything necessary to win the hearts of voters. Considering our success in the election, apparently quite a few people got the joke. The goal during the actual sitting of Parliament was to poke fun at anyone who took themselves too seriously, but not to disrespect the proceedings. I was in fact proud that we contributed substantially to most of the debates about the issues. I knew the whole thing was a roaring success when the Tory leader, a guy in whose caucus I had been the previous year, approached me during a break in the proceedings and spat in my direction an ugly diatribe at how I was making a complete mockery of the entire Canadian political system. He seemed to think this would hurt my feelings, and seemed rather stunned when, at the end of his invective, I thanked him and let him know that mockery of the system was exactly my point.

Constructive Criticism
For my second kick at the cat, I was more interested in actually establishing constructive ideas, so I formed another club, and we got ourselves on the ballot again. We were The Great Thinkers of All Time, a collection of historical and influential characters from Plato to Lincoln to the Pope whose goal was to bring to bear their particular ethical and moral perspectives on the Canadian issues of the day. As such, we were able to ask questions of the make-believe parliamentary body that just didn't get asked in the real one, and even if they were, seldom were any answers forthcoming. In short, we got to be philosopher kings for a day.

Hard Wired
I take this trip down memory lane because I think that this type of pattern is an archetype of the process of discovering oneself politically. The process, to summarize and dramatically oversimplify, is as follows: 1. support what your parents support because you are seeking their approval 2. support the opposite of what your parents support because you are trying to distance yourself from them 3. become sceptical of the political choices or system in general 4. support that with which you most closely identify. It's certainly worth noting that not everyone makes it through every stage, or even past the first, likely not because they are less evolved or aware, but because their discovery engines are chugging away on other highways. I'd love to finish my own basement, but while some of my neighbours' energies have been focus on running electrical wiring and putting up drywall, I've been puttering along this road.

Alternate Current
I think this archetypal process is important because it applies to societies as well as individuals. In the same way that those who have not passed through these stages tend to reflect the political views of their parents and background, the electorate that's busy re-wiring its basement tends to fall back on its political parents, the existing parties and paradigms of the establishment. There wouldn't be anything wrong with this if parents were always right about the correct course of action for their children but, as a child and a parent, I like to think there needs to be a time when the parent takes a less active and more advisory role. In a time of change when information is everywhere and so much is new, if I want to re-wire my political basement, I want someone who knows what's current.

Crossed Lines
We are in the midst of a time of great changes now, but, by and large, our political choices do not reflect this. In other words, going to the establishment for political advice is like asking Grandpa for advice on configuring your iPhone. People are becoming organized in new ways whose primary purpose is not always profit, information is not being beamed through as many filters, and we are coming to realize that entities like banks that, if nothing else, were at least a source of predictable prudence and stability, have fallen victim to the same weaknesses in managing wealth that they have always been so quick to condemn. Even those economically reared within those very institutions, children of the establishment in a manner of speaking, understand that, while the bottom line will continue to remain an important boundary, there are other lines that are no longer acceptable to cross.

What's in a Colour?
It's part unfortunate, part ironic, and part fitting that the colour green, and by association the Green Party, is associated with trees and grass. It's unfortunate because it makes it easy for anyone resting on old blue and red paradigms to dismiss any of its supporters as tree hugging lefties, and every decent person knows that tree huggers, while pleasant and often fun to hang out with, have no place in the corridors of power. It is ironic because green is also of course the symbolic colour of money, which often seems so intent on doing away with anything else that intrudes on its claim of ultimate greenness. It's fitting not only because of the obvious reasons, a strong policy focus on the environment, but also because it is indeed a grass-roots movement, which means that you can't always see it, know who's part of it, or understand the breadth of its presence, but you can often see its results. Who would dare these days to not call themselves a bit green? Green is in. Green is the color of things that grow from the earth, natural things, not artificial things. Most of us live in a man-made world where we can live for a whole day in our buildings, on our roads and sidewalks, without touching the earth -- the earth from which our food and water are taken and to which we will one day return. I think pretty much all of us agree that we could all use a bit more green.

But I am not primarily green for any of these reasons. I may have hugged a tree or two in my time, but I'm just as comfortable these days in a boardroom as I am on the forest floor. I make too much money to be a true lefty, and I spend as much of my days on concrete as the next guy. Green for me has nothing to do with left or right, money or the lack thereof, grass-roots or trickle down. Green for me is evergreen, the colour of legacy.

The Community Gates
I am Green because I am convinced that we actually have the ability to shape the future. I am Green because I believe that legacy and greatness are intertwined. Those who have achieved great success, in any form, begin when they look back upon their success, to think about how they will appear to the future. When Bill Gates, the world's richest individual, decides to spend his fortune helping those who can't help themselves, it is clear that we are no longer in an era where the value of legacy will be measured exclusively, or even primarily, by the extent of one's material holdings. The wealthy benefactor is not a new thing, to be sure, but the wealthy society, comfortable in its gated community of material contentment and focused on personal growth, is considerably more recent. Pretty soon, it should be old enough and adult enough to actually take some responsibility for its actions. Sorta like the person who swiped the Green Party sign from my front gates.

Return on Investment
Whoever you are, and for whatever reason you swiped my signs, you should know that I am Green because, if we do indeed believe that there is greatness in our society, and value in giving, then a time is coming very soon when we will look back upon our comfortable life and see that we must begin to act as if the future were watching us, as if our legacy as a community were at stake. If we don't, we risk having lived without purpose and leaving to those who follow a legacy that is defined by a great deal spent but little actually invested.

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Brush With Death II – The Gun Run

This is the second in my Brush With Death series. It is dedicated to those proud Mozambican people who, against considerable odds, have managed to give birth to a strong, new country on more or less their own terms.

Read Into It
Depending on what you want it to be, this is a story about what the rich will do for their luxuries, what the poor will do for survival money, or what the enslaved will do for even a few moments of real freedom.

The Gun Run
It took place on what was then known as “The Gun Run”, through the infamous Tete Corridor through Mozambique, the scene of a holocaust of devastation during its long-running civil war. The corridor itself is a tarred 263-kilometre road running from Nyamapanda on the Zimbabwean border through the Mozambican city of Tete to Zobue on the Malawi border. The Zimbabwean army (and the Malawian army coming the other way) would take a convoy of trucks through what at the time was one of the most active war zones in the world. The convoy went through once a day, carrying anything that couldn’t get between Malawi and Zimbabwe by other means, which meant anything too big to fit in a small plane. It was pretty much accepted wisdom that everyone who took the trip was either desperate, nuts, or uninformed. What had once been a road was now an obstacle course of blown-up trucks and swimming-pool sized potholes. It was a pretty good bet that the only decent stretches of road left were where the land mines were planted.

Fine Way to Start a Morning
I emerged from my own little haven of filth, among a small strip of equally dingy rooms, to learn that this morning’s Gun Run was going to be particularly on edge, and particularly full, because the one on the previous day had been unsuccessful, and the convoy had been hijacked by RENAMO rebels. A lot of equipment had been destroyed and a lot of people had been killed. As usual, reports that I could make out revealed that half of the rebels had been heavily-armed children, with no direction, no restraint, and very ugly mentors, no less determined but substantially less trained than your typical army in the hands of a government run by its friends.

Ripe For the Picking
On this particular day, we had expensive cargo, a series of brand spanking new Toyota Land Cruisers directly off the boat from Japan via Durban, South Africa, on their way to a few of the few people in Malawi who could actually afford them. This made our particular convoy an excellent candidate for hijacking, so they had added several more army trucks for extra protection.

Marketable Skills
There was actually a small cottage industry that had developed solely around the Gun Run, like insects converging from the night around a single source of light. Except it was daylight that brought this particular swarm. In the three hours or so between the crack of dawn and the scheduled departure of the convoy, the hot, dusty, and virtually barren landscape practically burped up an instant marketplace of goods and services. Food sellers, travelling bartenders, money changers, knick-knack pushers, message carriers, prostitutes, and medical workers appeared, circulated and disappeared all in less time than it took me to find a decent place to take a dump.

Takes Three to Tango
If you wanted a ride to Malawi, which I did, you needed to speak to a self-appointed "agent" to arrange your passage. Everyone was corruptible and looking to get ahead, so I got fleeced by not one, not two, but three separate “agents”, who may or may not have been working together as their own small but effective criminal syndicate. Of course, the agent of demand is not completely without moral responsibility in any economic transaction, criminal or otherwise, so I rationalized that as long as it was within my means, which clearly exceeded theirs, it was a fair bargain.

Countdown to Launch
I learned from the third spirit in this unholy trinity that I was to be placed in one of the Land Cruisers and was told to meet my driver near the vehicle a half hour or so before the scheduled departure time of the convoy. I was assured that the driver would have been informed of the presence of a passenger and the journey would pass without incident. With the world rushing by in all directions, I took my place as close to the earmarked vehicle as the guard would allow at the time that I had been given. I began to get nervous as the convoy’s preparations progressed, the trucks were all started, and the soldiers assembled casually to climb into the backs of the trucks. With all systems seemingly go, my driver was still nowhere to be seen.

Supply & Demands
When my driver finally showed up, as soldiers shouted orders and the first trucks in the convoy started to move, it became immediately clear that he had not been informed he was to have a passenger, but that he would do as the others had done and try his entrepreneurial skills. He staggered up to me and fixed me with two very bloodshot eyes, the smell of moonshine so powerful on his breath that I swooned as he spoke.

“You want ride. I want money!” he bellowed. “Give me money!”

House Rules
I looked around for sympathy or support, perhaps from the soldier who had been guarding the vehicle, but he was now on his way to joining the others in the nearest truck. I don’t know why I even bothered; with chaos the rule and precious little room for exception, it was clearly every man for himself. Seen in those terms, this guy was just following the rules.

Done Deal
I hastily negotiated a rate with him, half of which was contingent upon my actually reaching my destination, and even offered to drive in his stead, given his condition. He was insulted enough to give me a very dirty look but not enough to ask for more money, so it was under a cloud of deep mutual suspicion but not quite loathing that we finally climbed into the vehicle and prepared to hit the road.

Bottleneck Beast
The drivers of the private vehicles were under instructions to fall in behind the first three army trucks. It wasn’t much of a surprise when my driver immediately took it upon himself to do everything in his power to be the first non-army vehicle in the convoy. Engines roared and mechanical bodies swerved as several like-minded would-be rally drivers funneled into the two-lane wake of the army trucks. As the road was only one lane each way, I wondered for a moment what would happen if we encountered traffic coming the other way, but then realized that was impossible. This convoy was the only traffic on the entire 263-km stretch of road. So, like a python that had just swallowed a cheetah, the convoy, bulging at the middle with cars and trucks jockeying for position and given a head and tail by two sets of three army trucks, slithered awkwardly onto the Gun Run, with me nervously ensconced in the belly of the beast.

Living the Dream
But a cheetah was born to run, and so apparently was my driver. As soon as we crossed the border into Mozambique, his destiny as a Formula One star apparently took over completely from any sensibility he might have once possessed, and he began passing by any means possible the few vehicles that had managed to slide between us and the trucks leading the convoy. Our heads hit the truck’s roof at least twice and I was violently slammed into the passenger door several times again, as we crashed through potholes and careened through the branches of roadside trees. I can only imagine what his eyes were seeing, but pretty soon, he had achieved something equivalent to pole position in his dream world, and, in the world I was seeing, we had assumed position right behind the army trucks.

Clowning Around
When he began to zigzag side to side in plain view of the soldiers seated in the army truck directly ahead of us, I assumed he was just clowning for their benefit. They clearly thought the same thing, as they began to point and laugh as we swayed back and forth and he pretended to be trying to overtake them. They were almost certainly as amused by the smile of nervous terror pasted on my face as by the look of maniacal abandon on his.

The Pass
It was then that I was not only witness to but unwilling participant in what I then considered one of the stupidest acts that I have ever witnessed from another human being. Whooping like a male baboon showing his dominance in the troop, my driver kicked the gas pedal to the floor and swerved hard left in the beginning of an attempt to overtake all three army trucks. In other words, he decided that we were the ones who should be leading the convoy and clearing the road of mines and all the other potentially fatal obstacles that it was known to contain.

Losing It
All my previous attempts at civility and cultural tolerance instantly vanished, and I began to yell at the top of my lungs at him to stop immediately. At the same time, I began to calculate as quickly as I could how to render the idiot inert and commandeer the vehicle’s controls.

Bump In the Road
As I screamed and schemed, he tightened his grip on the wheel and shot us clean past the three trucks and out into the front of the convoy. I saw a shadow of panic cross his face as a couch-sized concrete barrier loomed suddenly before us, but he was so locked into the moment that he instinctively yanked the wheel and our front right wheel just grazed the barrier in passing. The fact that someone was waiting for this truck in mint condition at our destination was now no more than a distant memory, as my driver’s concentration focused anew on a fresh stretch of chewed-up quasi-pavement.

Good News, Bad News
As I considered whether the wiser course of action was to knock this guy over the head or try somehow to reason with him to halt the vehicle, I looked wildly back and saw two of the army trucks hurtling along side by side. They swerved apart to avoid the barrier, but then converged again and began to gain rapidly on us. Catching us was probably what was best for our own security, but I became suddenly less certain of that when I saw the soldier on the passenger’s side in one of the trucks leaning partly out the window and pointing a handgun in our direction, clearly prepared to fire.

Assault on the Senses
I instinctively ducked my head as low down as it would go, simultaneously and involuntarily glancing sideways so as not to miss the unholy spectacle of my driver potentially meeting his fate against a blood-spattered windshield. When his head was still there after a few seconds, and we were clearly still hurtling forward, I heard the roar of a truck’s engine pass not more than an arm’s length from the outside of my passenger door, and I heard the driver of the army truck screaming at my driver, quite audible even through my closed passenger window. I'm guessing that the only reason my driver still had brain matter in his skull was that, in the eyes of Zimbabwean army, the vehicle he was driving was worth more than he was, and the final customer might have had some issues with permanently blood-stained upholstery.

Dem de Brakes
It was then that my driver seemed finally to realize, at least momentarily, how seriously he was endangering his own life, not to mention mine. He looked over at me, really seeing me perhaps for the first time, wearing the type of expression that you might expect from a close friend with whom you had just made a narrow escape. He gave a sort of shrug, then slammed on the brakes, sending me forward into the dashboard. Our truck came scraping to a halt in a cloud of ochre Mozambican road dust.

Laughing Matters
As we sat in the middle of our dust cloud and waited for the soldiers to descend on our now-battered Land Cruiser, my driver did an odd thing. He began to laugh as if he had just been given the best news of his life, apparently having once again regained his obliviousness to my presence. He had come perilously close to being terminated by either land mines, a high-speed impact, or soldiers, but he seemed then to have found the whole thing wildly amusing. Quite against my own will, I started to laugh with him. You might wonder why. I know I certainly did. Clearly, an impulse of which I was not fully in control visited me as I chortled along with him in those elongated moments

Cry Freedom
I was probably laughing mostly because I was alive, but I think I did so at least partly for another reason, which had everything to do with my driver. I think I realized that, in a life that had clearly seen its share of hardship and injustice, there must have been precious few opportunities for him to memorialize his frustration at all of it in any but the crudest fashion. What he had just done was to craft a work of art with personal revolution as the theme and that perilous Mozambican road as a canvas. In one fell swoop, he had thumbed his nose at all of his commercial masters (the owners of the vehicle), a heavy-handed segment of his fellow Africans (the soldiers), his imperialist colonizers (me), and, most importantly of all, the hopeless economic and social determinism of his own existence. One part of me hated him for what he had just put me through, but there was clearly another part of me that recognized that, during those few minutes, hurtling in real life through the silhouetted void of the unforeseen, he had been completely free.

And you can hardly fault a guy for wanting that.

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Friday 21 March 2008

Watching Children Play, One of Them in the Mirror

Dedicated to those who get the joke.

Knowing Jack
We all know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But how much play is too much? As an adult, how much of each day should be devoted to play? Is it really possible to have a job where your work is your play, or is that just a bit too much to hope for?

Standing at the Crossroads
Perhaps I've been hanging out with my kids too much, but sometimes I wish the two weren't so separate, and I try to bring them together. For example my last post was both work and play for me. You could say it the was a roadmap for my efforts to reconcile the two. Maybe that doesn't make me too smart, but I'm pretty sure I'm not dull.

Punch Lines
In any case, now that I've freaked out everyone in my world with that last post, which I am going to refer to hereafter as that post due to its presumed ability to make people roll their eyes, it is time to start getting back to the play side. In other words, I can get back to communicating just for the sake of it, rather than for an actual purpose as banal as personal gain or notoriety. If you're already in my world, and you're back after that last post, congratulations, and thank you! You'd be surprised how much effort it takes to go from showing everyone how smart you are to showing everyone how stupid you are. Of course, if you know me, you know that my promise of the dual millions of readers and users with a public tattooing as collateral was my idea of something somewhere between a joke, a publicity stunt, and one of my many utterly mad proclamations; I'm pretty sure most of you got the joke, but there are always bound to be some who don't. If you're back here, I'm assuming you did, and we are obviously on the same wavelength. As it happens, no media outlets picked up the press release, at least not as far as I know, so it looks as though not everyone is affected by the way I organize my thoughts and my words as I am. Imagine that. In any event, it looks like I can toil away in safe obscurity for another little while at least, which is fine because obscurity is actually a condition I would prefer, if it paid better.

Hiding in Plain Sight
My challenge was, is, actually a kind of logic trap for anyone who seriously considers taking me up on it. To get me to tattoo myself, the person would have to read every single word of my blog, a feat which alone is an accomplishment in itself. Anyone who managed to get through that would then have to marshall the intellectual bandwidth to produce an argument against me about my life about something that could happen in the future. For anyone so ambitious as to get even that far, they would realize long before completion that the post to which they have spent so long replying contains a very strong and very thought-out argument about how to accomplish the goals I set, which would make the whole effort rather a waste of time. And finally, if I have managed to convince even one person to go to such lengths, that person would know me an awful lot better and would have either been won over to my argument or just think I was a complete idiot worthy of no more of their time. Either way, it appears from the lack of response that this trap may have been too visible, and so people just stepped around it. Besides, who has that kind of time these days?

Much Obliged
With all that about the media and the masses, I do not mean at all to suggest that your attention, my dearly beloved early reader, is anything to sneeze at. I view this space the way musicologists view The Velvet Underground. The official line on them is that very few people bought their records, but many of those who did went on to do wonderful things. Navigating this space with any level of direction requires your full attention, but I am pleased to report that those who currently manage that are already wonderful people doing wonderful things. I have always felt that the full attention of any one person for any length of time longer than a few seconds is, in fact, a wondrous thing. Noone who has had the privilege of being truly listened to by even one person is ever obscure. It can take an enormous amount of effort just to listen to one person properly, and certainly there are those in your life who deserve your attention, indeed who need your attention, so much more than I do. This applies in my own life as well; I asked my lovely wife the other day why she doesn't read my blog, and her reply was perfectly appropriate and absolutely relevant to the point at hand. "Because I know you", she said, "and I'd end up spending whole days going through it on the computer and not getting anything done." Wise words indeed, which serve to make me more deeply grateful that you have somehow found the time to lend me your ear.

Up All Night
Indeed, the one consistent question to have arisen from my peers around this whole online endeavor of mine is about where I actually find the time to make a living, shovel the snow, spend a whole lot of meaningful time with my family, try to contribute something to the community, sing for a band, develop the "next big thing", and still have room left to spin "long and tiresome" prose. I must either be an insomniac workaholic prone to momentous exaggeration, or just have inordinately good time management skills. Aside from the fact that this sentence is being typed at 4:09am, I'm not actually sure if it's either of those. All I really know for sure is that life is too short not to attempt to look deeply at everyone I meet and throw myself wildly into everything I do.

The Source
People where I make my living know that I am an idea person, not a logistics person, and it seems that, at least occasionally, my ideas have enough merit that I am asked where I get them. The same question is also extended to me sometimes about writing this journal, although the term used for "serious writers", which some people seem to want me to be, is usually not ideas but inspiration. Of course, like any idea person, I get inspiration from just about everything around me, but I would attribute most of the force pushing out my fountain (trickle?) of ideas to a source that might surprise the uninitiated. Many of my best ideas come from my kids.

Father Knows Best
There's a commonly held view, especially among parents, that children would do well to listen to their parents. Having three kids of my own, I dare not dispute the wisdom of that here, especially given that my kids will read this, but I think that parents would do well to consume a kernel of corresponding wisdom as they consider their own authority -- parents would do well to listen to their children. Of course, parents do listen to their children regarding anything that is taken to benefit the welfare of the child; they listen to them cry when they are hurt, they listen to them talk about their school day, and they nod sympathetically at being on the wrong end of the latest episode of sibling rivalry. This is not the kind of listening I mean. The kind of listening to which I refer is not the kind that is concerned with the child's welfare, it is the kind concerned with the parent's.

Good Listeners
You can tell a lot about someone by knowing who they listen to. Children are no exception, which is quite interesting because children will listen to everyone who has anything interesting to say. That can be bad, because some very bad people have very interesting things to say, but if the one doing the talking is one who loves them, someone to whom they should be listening, it can be very good. Whatever their age, from infant to teenager, who they listen to directs their play, and play is the most important time of all to a child. If you have children, and you want to know who your children listen to, try watching them play. If you don't recognize any of yourself in there, and their play is influenced exclusively by others, you may have reason to be concerned.

No 'We' in Wii?
It can certainly be difficult for a parent to be more interesting than some of the competition. For example, I watched my son progress the other day through the levels of his Super Mario Galaxy video game, and I saw nothing less than the virtual landscape of a child's imagination. A giant half-cute half-scary flower creature with a dragon's tail and an eggshell covering its head, a planet with a clear shell through which you could see what was happening inside, and, in Mario, a character with which any imagination could identify, who starts as a simple man but gains the ability to spring-leap, spin, skate, go through solid objects, turn into fire, and fly. What's great about video games, of course, is that they allow you to do so much more than you could ever do in your own body or your own life. You get to put yourself into another body and make decisions just like any hero or superhuman would make. Who wouldn't want to be invincible, with the ability to take any form, have unlimited intellectual and physical weaponry, and be drop-dead gorgeous to boot? I don't know if that's what your life is like, but mine ain't.

No 'Us' in Newspaper?
Even as I battle Super Mario with my rapier-like wit and my stories of great adventures, I have my middle child whose idea of a good time on a weekend morning is to spend a few hours reading the newspaper. As a result, my wife and I will be in the middle of a suitably adult discussion and our news junkie will interject with an insight so penetrating that we are virtually forced into dumfounded silence.

No 'End' in Edge?
And then there is my Harry Potter-loving pre-teen, for whom nothing but fantasy will do. The other night, we read together a passage from The Edge Chronicles, dripping with such creativity and storytelling prowess that it made me shiver. We jumped together into an imagination so vast that it would be not only conceivable but perhaps even desirable never to emerge on the other end. Certainly, after a minimum of five reads through each of the Harry Potter books, my daughter hasn't yet emerged from the imagination of the divine Ms. Rowling.

No 'Kid' in Kinz?
I think the grand champion at the moment though, has to be Webkinz. For those who don't know about Webkinz, which I would think is practically noone among those with a child between six and twelve, Webkinz is a virtual world web site for children that is tied into stuffed toys that are now sold practically everywhere. The child receives the very cute toy and then must officially go into the virtual world and adopt and then raise it as one would a child. In no particular order, children and their 'kinz' in this virtual world can then earn a sandwich table that you can choose to use or eat, be a bartender or chef and make drinks and food for your animal, make movies of your animals with silly dialogue, find a job for them at the employment office, get them a medical check-up when they are sick, and conduct an online auction for their stuff in the W Shop. I mean, how cool is that? Not surprising that just about any kid that my kids know has at least one Webkinz. Depending on how you look at it, the legions of children on Webkinz are either learning valuable life skills, or are being lured into a gigantic trap whose prize when the jaws snap shut is their time, which means less time with their parents or others responsible for their welfare.

Okay, I'll Stop Forcing the Subtitles
Of course, I'm sure you realize by now that I wouldn't be telling you all this if I thought it applied only to children. I can't speak for you, but I know that all of my best ideas come from my play time. When I am at play, I am doing just what I want to do, and I am therefore closest to my natural self. So I want to be careful who influences my play time. In fact, if I were not me, I would not want someone like me influencing my play time. When I said in that post that I wanted to do precisely what I wanted, I was just saying in another way that I just wanted to be left alone to play. And what you're reading right now, for me this is play. Like any kid, I just wish I could do it all the time.

Measurable Value
I suppose that makes me a little irresponsible, but what if I can manage to do it in such a way that it will serve to make me happy, help those I love, and even contribute something to the community at large? To that end, some of you who actually read through the whole of that post have asked me (though not in my Comments section, where I would have liked a bit more feedback!) exactly what it is that this fancy new "billion-dollar" tool does. What is it about this plaything that makes me think I'm going to be a multi-godzillionaire and spend the rest of my days at play? I will answer that question in due time -- I can't now or I'd have to kill you -- but let me get something straight. I don't care about being a multi-godzillionaire; it means as little to me as what I'm going to have for lunch tomorrow. In fact, it means even less because, unlike tomorrow's lunch, it actually has no measurable value to my well-being. There are only six things I can think of that have significant positive value to me; to be able to take care of my loved ones, to be financially obligated to nobody, to go where I want to go, to do what I want to do, to give to the world more than I take, and for you to feel that what you find in my creative space is interesting enough and good enough to recommend to someone else. Anything else is completely worthless to me. Well, everything except tomorrow's lunch, but only because I have already assigned it worth.

Venting Frustration
So, tool or no tool, the next step in this awfully enjoyable game I'm playing, which I hope is not too excrutiating for you if you have chosen to play it with me, is to integrate my music collection, assembled over thirty years of physical, experiential and cerebral globetrotting, more fully with the contents of this space. The thing is, I really want this space to be a place where it's easy and hopefully even enjoyable to spend time, like a really cool living room. To that end, I'll be playing you the music I'd play you if you came over to my house and sat in my living room. Put another way, in the next little while, I'll be getting into audio broadasting on this blog, my own radio program if you will, to exercise (exorcise?) the frustrated DJ in myself. And you, my play friend, are invited to join me.

Mood Genre
Each show will have a musical theme. My collection of music may be good partly because it has been accumulated over many years from many different people from many different backgrounds from many different countries, or because I have a great system for organizing it, but I think it is primarily good because of how intently I listen. I suspect lots of people do as I do and organize by mood/theme/impression/feeling rather than genre, especially in a time when all genres are slowly disappearing, and I also do it in a particularly fastidious manner and have been doing so for quite some time, but I can say with some degree of certainty that the genre of a piece of music means absolutely nothing to me. I don't even hear a genre when I hear a piece of music, at least I try not to. So my music has been classified and categorized using an index that I have not seen used. The index is how it makes me feel.

Just A Little Taste
In fact, I have been quite content for periods over the last thirty years to let other important aspects of my life fall away into a disarray resembling leaves on the ground surrounding an autumn maple, but one thing I have never let slip in my lifelong love affair with Euterpe is a devotion to the sound arrangement of sounds. For just a small sampling, you can use the blue MediaMaster button in the left column of this blog to play a stream of selected music from my collection. I recommend that you let it play for a while (you don't have to be on my blog once the stream has started -- it will just keep playing until you stop it) to get a reasonable idea of the variety. You can also get a sampling of my "moodgenres" on my Radio Orange page.

Where Did They Find That?
You know those songs on tv commercials that you hear and think are so good and you wonder where they got them? Or the ones that seep into your conversations at your favourite coffee shop, or soundtrack the best scenes in your favourite movies or programs? I have a whole collection full of those songs, music that, in many cases, nobody knows, but that, in all cases, everybody should know. It is the kind of music that deserves to be the soundtrack for a life well lived, whether yours or mine, paying particular attention to the ups and downs but filling the spaces in between with an invigorating blend of discovery and familiarity. I'm not saying you'll like all of it -- the themes are such that you can skip what you won't like -- but I will go so far as to say that all of it will be good, because the care that I will put into every music selection on my radio shows will be the same care that I put into every word on this blog. If you've been reading, you'll know that that is quite a lot.

What's In a Name?
If I can figure out the technical part, I hope that most shows will also have a guest. The idea is to have a guest who more or less fits the musical theme. So, for example, I have a musical theme called Story, so I would want a guest for that show who could tell us all some really great stories. Certainly, I wouldn't mind getting some known "names" as guests for my broadcasts (if you are one, you know one, or can suggest one, I'm all ears), but I'm not actually looking at only the "stars", or even mostly at them. I learned in my greatest failed business venture that, from the purely utilitarian point of view that I understand but disdain, people with widely recognized names are valuable to various enterprises primarily because they attract attention, as surely as flesh attracts eyes and dung attracts flies. And I'm sure you know by now, being the great listener that you are, that attention is something in which I am quite interested.

Putting the Ordinary in Extraordinary
But if I am unable to draw any widely recognizable figures for my first few shows, I will choose to see that as a blessing in disguise, a message from the universe that my actual intention is worth more than any attempt to promote it. You see, the essence of my whole mission with this is to show that 'ordinary folk' are just as interesting, if not more, and that celebrity worship, in any form other than that which elevates the celebrities in our own lives, has much too big a place in the lives of most of us. The way I see it, everyone in my life is a celebrity. The people in my world deserve the spotlight as much as anyone in People Magazine or IMDB. It's all about asking the right questions, and I just can't seem to shake the crazy notion that I know what some of those questions are. So, to that end, if you feel that you are both ordinary and in any conceivable way extraordinary, just let me know, and you may well be one of my guests.

What's That Sucking Sound?
Technical issues aside, I'm also trying to pin down a regularly scheduled block in this already busy life that will work both for me and for any potential listeners, so I'm not fully in control of when the inaugural show will be hitting the webwaves. It may even be quite a long time. What I can promise is that I will let you know when I have the date of the first show confirmed, and I hope you will tune in. In case you can't, all archived shows will be available as podcasts for your mp3 player or car stereo. I'll also be making all the posts on this blog available as podcasts, read by me with a selection of theme-appropriate background music. Yes, that's what I said, more of me sucking away your valuable time in another medium. Just what you need, right?

Non Sequitur
Wrong -- entirely, completely wrong. So, for the sake of someone or something important in your life, stop reading, turn your computer off, and go play with someone else.

Whoever it is will surely be glad you did.

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Thursday 14 February 2008

Bigger Than Oprah, Better Than Facebook…

Dedicated to Lawrence and Lori Ann, successful according to any definition, for loving the world's children as their own, and for listening to so many of them at once while still managing to hear so much from each one.

Imagine All The People
Imagine, if you can, an individual with the personability of Oprah Winfrey, the depth of insight of John Lennon, and the clarity of purpose of J.K. Rowling, as the creator of and chief evangelist for a consumer product as addictive and ubiquitous as Facebook and as well conceived as the iPod. Such a person would either be very interesting, very dangerous, or a mixture of both. My aim with you today is to convince you by the end of this post that I am that person.

Screw Loose?
If you know me, you will likely recognize that this is the kind of statement I make on a fairly regular basis. It is fair to assume that the type of person that makes this type of statement on a regular basis is either a shameless, and rather clueless, self promoter, or he is the type of person who actually believes he speaks the truth. I can assure you that I am the latter. If you accept that, then the choices that remain in interpreting this type of statement are that the person who makes it is either completely right, partly right, or fully delusional.

Sign Your Name Across My Head
I can't see you from here, but I’m guessing that the odds are pretty good that you would lean towards the latter conclusion. If that is true, I would like to offer you a challenge. Read this entire blog, from the first post right up to the present post, in chronological order, and post a comment below that both proves you have read the entire blog and contains one single point that you believe qualifies my stated plan as delusional, or even as an act of clueless self-promotion. If you prove to be correct, and I fail to accomplish the goals that I detail in the rest of this post, I will, in one year’s time, post a video of myself shaving what hair remains on my hitherto unblemished head and getting a tattoo, a permanent signature if you will, of the name of each person who has posted such a comment.

For All of 15 Minutes
You would be right to question my motives for doing, or even promising to do, such a thing. You might speculate that such an act by a grown man is only slightly more sophisticated than a group of teens videotaping a beating and uploading it to YouTube, or dressing up for the American Idol judges. You might speculate that, in psychological terms, I am little more than a child jumping up and down for attention, or an infant alone in his crib crying to be embraced, all the more irresponsible because I do have actual children that require just that kind of attention.

Destination: Destiny
Well, as for the attention part, I can assure you that everyone in my life gets my full attention when we spend time together, and I get plenty of attention myself, as much as I want in fact. Well, almost. The fact of the matter is that I have spent much of my life striving to avoid getting more attention, because I know about all the bad stuff it can bring. If you are of the more skeptical variety, you will certainly doubt this, however if you are familiar, intimately familiar, with the concept of destiny, you may actually believe me. Destiny is held by some as something you either believe in or you don’t, as if it had something to do with the future. Destiny is not like that at all. Destiny is not about what you will do, or even what will happen to you; it is about who you are.

Future Proof
I believe in the concept of destiny, because I have always been able to predict my own future. Not to the last detail of course, not where I was going to be or what I was going to do, but certainly who I was going to be. Once the mold is cast, at some point on the road to adulthood, I think everybody has the ability to do that, anybody who knows who they are. I don't mean you can predict if you're going to get hit by a car or struck by lightning, but I think you can predict, based on your own tendencies if you really know them, who you are going to be. It shouldn't surprise you at all to consider that you are in control of who you are going to be. You control how other people are going to affect you, and even how every event except your own death will affect you. What made the names of the great, all the wonderful and horrible, Alexander the Great and William Shakespeare , Mahatma Gandhi and Adolph Hitler , Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King is not about where they were born or what they did, it is about who they were. The shape and direction of their own particular arcs through their eras may have been shaped by their circumstances, but these people happened to history, not the other way around. Those so blessed or cursed know who they are and, even if they had no choice in the matter, they understand what makes them different and what will happen to them when that difference is shown to the world.

By What Yardstick?
It may sound pretentious to you that I talk about greatness as if I knew what it were about, as if I can be so presumptuous as to assume that I myself belong in the company of any so far mentioned, however good or evil. You may even take it to mean that I think I am better or greater than you are. In a culture that has grown used to measuring success by the size of one’s bank account, the number of people in one’s congregation, or the number of awards and certificates one has achieved, it is easy to assume that those who are recognized in such a way have greater roles to play than most. First of all, I have never believed this, and hope I never will. Their roles are certainly different, but the magnitude of recognition has nothing whatsoever to do with the usefulness of the role. Is there not more greatness in the simple act of taking without shame a face disfigured by burns or disease onto a busy city sidewalk than in leading legions of people to a bunch of conclusions that they would have come to anyway? Second, I believe that every single living creature exudes greatness in at least one measurable way, and therefore the difference between the "greatness" of those mentioned above and the type exhibited by any other person is simply that one has been recognized and the other has not. Yet.

Swimming in Sludge?
Even if you were willing to grant me that attention or fame are not my primary motives, you might instead think of what you are about to read as some kind of sophisticated sales pitch. You wonder when the ads will start appearing in the sidebar, or when I’ll put up my phone number as a speaker at someone’s corporate event, or when I’ll start hawking the latest and greatest in the unending stream of billion-dollar schemes that ooze through the Internet like sludge through a sewer pipe. Well, I do have to plead partly guilty to that one, I do have the next billion-dollar scheme, but that isn’t the explanation for why I’m making this crazy proclamation.

True Confessions
The bold statement that begins this post, and its accompanying challenge, have a much simpler, more personal explanation. I’ve finally found what I want to do, and I just can’t wait any longer to do it, so I’m willing to do pretty much whatever it takes to start doing it. I have finally managed to reconcile two parts of myself, by managing to marry the person I am with what I actually do to fill my days. After 41 years, I actually know what I want to do with my life. This may not be particularly important to you, but is something that has long alluded me, so it's pretty important to me. I am not the kind of person who could ever lead a whole life without ever having tried to do exactly what I wanted.

Here's The Story
I have tried other ways; I’ve actually been trying to tell you all this for a while, but either you haven’t really been listening, or I haven’t been saying it properly. I think it’s the latter; I think I’ve been too subtle. Certainly, subtlety is a skill with which anyone who has a compelling message to convey should be familiar. A story is perhaps the oldest form of subtly conveying a message of profound import that is too painful, powerful, or complex to be conveyed directly. Our dramatists are doing it all the time, telling the story of their own live -- their relationships, their dreams, their perversions, and their secrets -- but they are encoding the information with stories. When you want to make a point about something, have you not ever attributed something you believed to someone else by telling a story, in order to give it more credibility? For example, you're having a debate with a co-worker, and you're losing, and you need a quick fact to back up your argument, so you invent the fact and attribute it to something you read. In other words, you tell a story. Or to test something that may offend, you say that a friend believes it, so you can disown yourself from it if the repercussions vibrate the strings a bit too much. If these to you are not stories but lies, then I regret to inform you that the world is filled with liars.

Blunt Force Trauma
The attention and accolades that we heap on all our storytellers from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg should be all the evidence you need of the value of subtlety in delivery. I thought that by choosing my own life as the story, I was removing a layer of subtlety, and therefore giving more direct access to the message. I chose my life as the subject of this journal because it’s completely unique, and I think it’s about as interesting as any of the other stories floating around out there. After all, all these stories that I am bombarded with are interesting and compelling, but they are not mine. If I am interested enough in a book or a movie, someone else’s story, to give it hours or even days of my time, you would think that I would be interested enough in my own story to give it the same attention. All those books and movies are simply stories of what their creators want to happen, and some truly great things happen in the stories that they create. But they happen to other people. For me, that has never been acceptable. So now I’m hitting you over the head with my story, and I hope it hurts.

So What?
Why should you care? What makes me think that my story is newsworthy, or even worth writing about? Why should what I do for a living or the contents of my philosophical noodling in private moments excite any interest in you whatsoever? Certainly, on the job side, I have done many – those for which I’ve been paid include mesquite cook, bartender, construction worker, consultant, safari guide, teacher, janitor, salesman, actor, musician, principal, film producer, mover, foreman, freight forwarder, motivational speaker, landscaper, painter, writer, business manager, greenskeeper, mergers and acquisitions broker, gift wrapper and the Easter Bunny – why should this particular one be of enough interest to you to deserve even as much of your time as I have already taken?

The Secret To Success
The answer is simple. Because with all my noodlings, my roamings and ramblings, what I have found is the very secret to success. I’m not talking about just having lots of money, though certainly financial success can be an important part of, and sometimes even comes inevitably with, personal success. Success though, really has nothing to do with money. It’s more of a cliché than ever that there are plenty of people who are personally successful without having much financial success at all, and anyway, if tomorrow we woke up to a world without the concept of money, most of the most successful people I know would be among the first to sing its praises.

Not Green, Orange
No, I’m talking about the secret to a different kind of success. The kind of success that resides in the sense of accomplishment that everyone recognizes after a sentence well phrased, a job well done, a personal encounter well joined, or a day well spent, enough of which, strung together, might even form the basis of a life well lived. I’m talking about a secret to success that someone like Tony Robbins or Oprah's current favourite Eckhart Tolle, might charge you money for (or at least make money from). And I'm pretty convinced this will work not only for me but also for you and for everyone else.

If You Want to Make God Laugh, Tell Him Your Plans
So, want to hear the secret, the master plan, my blueprint for accomplishing everything I wrote in the first paragraph of this post? Here it is, here’s my great idea, my 15-second elevator pitch, that is worth all those many billions, and will help me and everyone else finally pay off all those earthly debts and make us all as free as lottery winners. Lean close to your screen so you can hear it and don’t miss it.

$$$This is Worth Billions$$$
I’m going to get paid for just being myself and doing as I please, for doing just what I am doing right now. Imagine waking up every day and doing whatever you wanted to do, and not have to worry about getting paid for it. That is what I want to do.

That's It?
How’s that for a business idea? Brilliant, don’t you think? After 41 years of incredible experiences and deep thought in the midst of the most wonderful people, that is what I have come up with. If right now you are wondering why you have read this far down the page for that, you are most certainly not alone. You may grant that there are people out there getting paid for being themselves, but I'm quite sure you won't allow me to then infer that everyone can do it. Besides, even among those who could, how many are billionaires? Well, maybe Oprah, but I ain’t Oprah, so…

The Story of O
Well, it’s true, I’m not Oprah, but, if you’re an Oprah fan, you’ll find me every bit as interesting. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to limit her achievements any more than I want to celebrate mine. Everything she has accomplished has been about her sharing herself so that people could get to know her. Her success itself is amplified by how well she shares everything about it with everyone. She meets who she wants to meet, and asks those people the questions she wants to ask. She uses those opportunities as much to understand herself as she does to understand her world, and she then shares that understanding with her viewers. She doesn’t make you wonder what it must have been like to know Bill Gates in high school, or to grow up with Steven Spielberg. All such people do share of themselves certainly, that’s why they are where they are, but Oprah shares more. She really gives you the opportunity to know her. My goal is not that different. I want to give you the opportunity to know me and my world, and the relationship between the two.

Yardstick #1
But for this plan to work, your attention will be required, so the first yardstick against which to measure my tattoo challenge is the magnitude of your attention. The first part of my plan states that, in one year’s time, this journal will have 1,000,000 readers (it currently has fewer than a hundred).

Games With Toys
If you’re not an Oprah fan, if you are not a person who can be hypnotized by words, or if you are simply immune to my particular charms, I will endeavor instead to ensnare you with a product, with something that can actually be bought and sold. I intend to accomplish this the same way that a successful company leads you to cherish and even become addicted to your favourite power tool, your trusty late-night snack, your video game console, your car, or your brand-name handbag. I say this because I know what it takes to do this, and I aim to prove it to you not just by waxing egghead philosophical but by playing the game that everyone now seems to want to play, the one whose object is get all the coolest toys.

What a Tool!
I have a partner, and we have spent the past year or so developing just such an addictive little thing, more addictive even, in its finished form, than Facebook. It’s for bloggers, it’s for readers, it’s for music lovers, it’s for travelers, it’s for couch potatoes, it’s for everyone who ever wanted to be on television or on the radio; in short, it’s for everyone. Like any tool truly well-designed, this particular tool is also for my own use and pleasure, so not only will tons of toys be mine for the choosing because of it, but I’ll get to play with it myself, like Bill explores with Windows and Steve shuffles along on his iPod.

Yardstick #2
The second part of my plan, then, the second yardstick, is for the proliferation of this toy/tool such that, in one year’s time, at least 1,000,000 people will be using it regularly (it currently has only 2 users, me and my developer partner).

Painful & Permanent Consequences
If these two yardsticks, 1,000,000 readers and 1,000,000 users, have not been passed one year from the date of this post, I’m in for a painful and permanent experience. I would like to remind you that this is quite a reach; not only am I not a tattoo freak (I have but one, on my chest), but, to get into the millions of viewers and users, it took the Oprahs and Facebooks of the world considerably longer than a year.

How Do You Top That?
I also feel compelled to share with you the next part of the plan, assuming the first parts succeed. When I have you just where I want you, and I’m in a perfect position to take advantage of you, I want to break the spell that I have cast, and show you how important it is to be free of me and any salesmen of words and dreams like me. I am, you see, one of the naïve souls who chooses to believe that addictions can be broken, or at least well managed, and it never really does anyone any good to be addicted to anything.

Broadcast News
So, this goes out to everyone in my world, everyone listening to this radio show full of more confessions than would fill an endless succession of hurtin’ country songs, balls-out rock-and-roll and sung-to-the-rafters opera. It is being issued as a press release, to anyone who might listen – family, friends, former classmates, influences, business associates, people in my community, television, radio and Internet media outets. It is being sent as a press release because it is meant to be newsworthy. Yes, I admit it, I want to be in the news. I want someone else to start helping me tell my own story. Because if this isn’t news, I honestly don’t know what is. I don’t really care which news it is; weird science news, new age spirituality news, the 6’oclock news, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, or Enterainment Tonight. I just want to be news.

All Joking Aside...
Because at the end of the day, and the end of this post, after all the jokes have been made about me and my motives, the reason I want to be news is because I want the soapbox, not to collect followers or dollars, but to share a simple message that I think is critically important, and that (sniff) I think can actually help some people. It has been said before and will be said again, but I obviously believe that my way of saying it is unique. It is simply this.

To understand oneself is to understand one’s world.

Listen to What Confucius Say

I don’t express this as one of those profound pieces of fortune-cookie wisdom that have become so common, uttered as they are by sages in flowing robes and the blissfully ignorant alike, that they have lost all proximity to meaning. I say it because I know what I’m talking about. I say it because I understand myself, in a way that few people do. This may not mean anything to you at first glance, it may indeed sound hopelessly self-centred, and it may even make you turn away and stop reading, but I can assure you that, over the next few years especially, it is going to be quite important.

The Medium is the Product
It is going be important because it will define success. Our media, the channels that bring us not just our news but all the stuff for our minds and our hands and our lives, have given us an ability that we will no longer be able to overlook; the ability to reach, in so many ways, so many people, so successfully. As these media mature, as the ways in which we can speak to each other become more numerous, more and more people are becoming capable of reaching out en masse. Messages are marketable, and products are just tangible messages, so, whatever your measure of success, with the right message, there is an opportunity for success now such as has never existed previously.

Lots in Common
Even with common wisdom suggesting that, to be successful, you either have to be really smart, really lucky, or just know the right people, all that stuff about who you know is really just about whose language you speak. Certainly, if you were educated with someone, or grew up in the same neighbourhood, or are in any other way similar to someone you think can help you, you will have a better chance of being able to speak his or her language. But this is now a lesson, not a barrier. The great influencers, by communicating, create connections with those who believe they are like them, or share something with them, and the more potential points of commonality with the more people, the wider that person’s influence will be. We give them our time and our attention because, with whatever they have created, they have managed to put into words or form what we were already thinking.

Mind Meld
They know that speaking to many and actually having all those people listen isn’t about using fancy words or even about being smarter. They know that it has a lot more to do with pre-supposing and then removing objections and obstacles, often times unintentionally. Put someone who is possessed of this skill in a room with ten people, a hundred people, and a thousand people, and the message will change with the size of the audience, because the person either consciously or instinctively realizes that the delivery must be massaged accordingly. I know about this because I am one of those people; I have a meter on the acceptance and attentiveness level of anyone in any size of audience at any time. If you are reading this, then I have your attention, and I have therefore crafted a message that you and anyone else reading this will have accepted on some level, because it is something you have already thought.

Wire Tap
And you only need go as far as your computer, your next charitable donation, or a political demonstration, to see that even more of the most interesting and educational conversations are those that take place with things, actions, and the events those actions produce. We are taught that we are supposed to listen only to certain conversations; from our parents, from our teachers, but we often forget that authority is given not by those speaking but by those listening. The more things you do, the more people and actions you are involved with, the more conversations you are involved in at any one time. Successful companies are those carrying out the most conversations simultaneously, and great communicators are the ones who can simultaneously carry on conversations with the most people. They are talking to each other, through their work, through their scale, and through their understanding. Eavesdropping on them and really understanding them feels like sitting in a room full of people listening to someone speak and being the only one clued in enough to get an inside joke made by the speaker.

Method to the Madness
Of course, it’s very hard to hear these conversations if you don’t know how to listen to even the conversations taking place within your own head. Just as it's easier to be a comedian if you think your own jokes are funny, it’s a small step, with understanding of one's own internal conversations, to realize that to understand one’s world is to empower oneself to change one’s relationship to it, but without it, no other conversation will ever make much sense. Whether the method to attain such understanding is science, religion, just plain intuition, or just to ignore those voices, it doesn’t take a degree in sociology to see that the bottom line of listening to ourselves think is to come to some type of understanding of where we fit in, and how we can make the best of that fit. My point in framing this as a media conversation is simply that there is no longer any excuse, as a group if not individually, for the absence of that understanding.

"Pleaaasse, Make The Voices Stop!"
If you don’t know what I mean, imagine easing your head slowly upward through layers and layers of tiny increments of space, and at each layer, each time you inch your head up, you hear something else, in a different language, and all of it makes sense. That is not only Orange Life but it is becoming the life of everyone, snippets of conversations that resound like familiar tunes on a whole spectrum of cosmic radio stations.

Wavemakers & Puddlejumpers
The conversations themselves, and the voices that have them, aren’t cosmic at all. They’re the voices of everyone in our world, from the biggest wavemakers to the smallest puddle-jumpers. My secret, if you accept that I have one, is to listen on one level, to eavesdrop as it were, interpret what I have heard, and then give it back to the world in the fashion that will reach the most people. You may not be very interested in the secret to success if you are already successful, if you already hear these conversations, but if you are one of those whom circumstance has bypassed, there’s a good chance that you really, really want to understand it. My mission, my calling, my passion is to try to decipher that conversation and help you understand it. Because I think that everyone, absolutely everyone, has the right to be successful.

And, if you still doubt me, what better way to prove it than to show you.

So, let the games begin!

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