Escaping The Joplin/Hendrix Birthday Curse

May 21, 2010

Headlong into twenty-eight...

Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kurt Cobain… the list goes on. At twenty seven, the creative brain must make a choice: to embrace its talents, or, through self-destruction and/or social conformity, escape them. The buoyancy of youthful idealism cannot be sustained. Once its intoxication, the powerful high of potential, begins to wane, it’s easy to see how a person could be drawn to the false grandeur of drugs. The latter would become even more of a temptation if the creative individual’s talents had been overindulged at a young age (ie: prodigies). Excess praise, however justified from an outside perspective, would have the dangerous effect of validating a child’s underdeveloped, self-centric understanding of reality. A child who has engaged with the world primarily through intelligent adaptation of her/his talents couldn’t help but develop an exaggerated sense of control over life. Combine this unreality with a lack of learned social empathy, and you’ve got a disaster waiting to happen.

There’s more to the curse, of course, such as exhaustion, overextension, disillusionment, and THE SHOCK. When creative production has been your currency, it comes as a terrible shock to discover how widely its value can vary on the global exchange. Turns out there are plenty of people who don’t need to “produce” to feel engaged and satisfied with life – lucky bastards! Some folks… wait for it… actually thrive primarily off human interactions. Weird, I know. But then again, I’d be lost without my circle (and my G!). Can you see the conflict?

At twenty-seven, the world comes crashing in. It is no longer possible to ignore alternative worldviews, and even the acknowledgement of differing motivations can be paralyzing to someone whose self-image, if not their entire self-worth (Joplin), has been dependent on narrow self expression. For authentic creative growth at this stage in life, the individual must be willing to integrate these new universalities into her/his work. Successful integration requires a compassionate understanding of these new value systems. But how do you prioritize/balance the demands of these new systems against one’s intrinsic creative independence?

Creativity is by nature self-indulgent, being, in essence, a personality’s violent rebuttal against the known (we’ll leave death for another essay). It doesn’t take long to discover how eager the world is to intrude on our self-direction. So how does one balance these new priorities and demands being made on our energies by the differing worldviews we’ve now gone and validated through successful integration into our creative work? Once you know how much your “No” will hurt someone, how do protect your creative time without feeling like a Jerk?

As someone who can relate (possibly more than I’d like to admit) to the struggles above, all I can say is this: you know who you need to love, so love them with everything they deserve. And, if you wake up to a dismal, snow laced, May Birthday, just grab a piece of office cardstock, some multicoloured highlighters, and go prove to the world that not only did you escape the curse, but… screw it… that not all of us were put on this earth to collect Royal Dalton figurines!

(Note: not that there’s anything wrong with that…um…vocation)


Why he didn’t get that diamond encrusted Rolex for Valentines Day…

February 16, 2010

Scene: 6:50am, Calgary, in an apartment still reeking of hubby’s late night snack…

“Ok, so new rule.” I laid down the law. “Whoever cooks spicy Italian sausages on the George Forman [Grill] has to clean it right away.”

A snarky voice answered from the bedroom. “You’re not allowed to just go around arbitrarily making up rules.”

Then I, in one of those blithe philosophical musings visited upon those who find themselves half-in-and-half-out of winter jackets well before dawn, replied, “How does one make any rule, if not arbitrarily!”

“No, no,” my dear husband corrected me, coming round the corner, socks in hand and wearing a mischievous grin. “Only I’m allowed to make up rules arbitrarily.”

Humph…men.


An immortal quote for a not so immortal moment

November 12, 2009

I found this gem of a quote in the back of The Calgary Sun:

“What you love – becomes your master.”

“Would you agree?” I asked my ever-so-wise husband.

“Oh, yes.” He smiled at me, and kept smiling until I figured out why.


Soap operas and sweet potatoes in the produce aisle

July 2, 2009

I was in the grocery store the other day, when I happened to overhear an age old human drama play out over the sweet potatoes. One of the two men stocking the vegetables flagged down a passing produce manager to ask her advice on a logistical problem – I’m assuming she was higher up the food chain since she was wearing a classy full-length Safeway smock instead of lowly green apron.

Logistics resolved, the three got to chatting about the ol’ days:

“…Now, Harry,” said the older of the two men, “there was one heck of a produce man.” He spoke wistfully, with respect and an obvious, long kindled awe, the way other men speak of Winston Churchill, or Elvis.

“Oh,” cut in the younger man, turning to the woman, whose androgyny was cut only by a tight blond ponytail, “isn’t that your husband?”

Maybe it was my imagination, but I swear her whole body went tense under that smock. She suddenly had somewhere else to be and took off for the swinging doors behind the prepackaged salads.

“My EX husband,” she called back to the men, before disappearing into the bowels of the building.

I felt for her. How hard it must be to live in the shadow of a legend. Any man who can inspire such awe, such reverence, must pay a terrible cost. In choosing greatness, as Harry, and a hundred before him have done, our heroes must leave so many behind. A pickle any way you slice it.


How a stone in your shoe makes it easier to get ahead

May 8, 2009

My new running shoes have a quirk. Small bits of gravel keep getting lodged in the treads. These pebbles cause the infamous Princess and the Pea syndrome with the way they poke up into the padding and scrape along the sidewalk. Yesterday I had one that wouldn’t budge, no matter how hard or long (or at which angle) I dragged my foot on the cement. I tried prying it out with the corner of the next sidewalk square, and even with the edge of the curb.

Finally, after wasting a ton of energy, not to mention looking like a complete yabo, I lifted my foot so I could examine the situation. It took just one tiny, concentrated, flick with the tip of my index finger to dislodge the stone. 

Most automobile engines operate with an efficiency somewhere between 25% and 30% (with up to 75% of the gas wasted!). In previous centuries, piston driven steam engines were only able to convert an average of 8% of their power into kinetic energy. These appalling stats show our historical inefficiency in maximizing energy conversions. Which is to say, we humans do a bang up job at plowing through our resources in whatever way gets us across the street (or eating the chicken) with the least concentrated effort on our part – aka we are addicted to the path of least resistance.

What am I trying to say? There is only one way to get ahead: concentrated effort.

Break out of the “path of least resistance” for a moment and take an new look at your situation. Your percieved parameters are 99% sourced from a brain looking for pattern and security. Just imagine what you could accomplish if stopped dragging your feet on the sidewalk and really took a good look what’s stuck (and why). Just imagine. I know I’m trying. Our futures might be only a finger flick away.


Grab a biscuit on your way out…

April 9, 2009

I cut under the entrance awning of the retirement home beside my office building on my way to work this morning. There was an ambulance parked in front, right outside the home’s dining lounge windows. I took a peek at the breakfast crowd as I darted by. I know the drill; an ambulance that early in the morning usually means only one thing: there will be one less tea biscuit on the tray.

There was a smattering of elderly residents in the lounge, some chatting, some alone, all nibbling on delights far more tasty than the frozen peas with cheese that were waiting for me next door (don’t ask). One woman was sitting close to the window, all by herself. She was looking past me absently, chewing on the end of a thick butter coloured biscuit. Her wrists were wire thin, and the dyed reddish curls on top of her head were politely spaced with plenty of breathing room in between each translucent twist.

I couldn’t help but wonder if it was one of her table-mates who wouldn’t be making it down for breakfast. The woman didn’t seem all that concerned about the ambulance, or even all that interested in what she was eating. What did the scene mean to her, if anything? With mortality waiting just outside the window – I kept asking myself – why wasn’t she savouring the darned tea biscuit? There is so much I don’t yet know about life, but I can tell you one thing…

My frozen peas with cheese were absolutely delicious.

The tea biscuit circle of life

The tea biscuit circle of life

(image source)


After the crash: Looking beyond the stock market to the new “Microconomy”

November 24, 2008

The next mutation, or evolution (depending on your creed), of our Western economic model will consist of a major upheaval in the trend of monopolization. Instead of localizing our needs geographically, as shown by the proliferation of big box one-stop shops, and administratively (all those endless mergers), we will see a dramatic shift towards a new model – the “microconomy“.

The microconomy will be a gradual reversal of monopolization, facilitated (if not necessitated) by the Internet. Historically, monopolization has been favoured for its ability to reduce operating (parts manufacture, administration, shipping, communication) costs and to boost the perceived “authority” of the parent company. This concept of authority was vital in the old economic model, because it fostered feelings of security and trust in the minds of both customers and employees. For example, the stock market used its perception of authority to secure seemingly endless investments from a naturally near-sighted public and from fellow money monopolizers (aka fat cats).

Authority is a universal concept, modeled for eons by families, governments, and religions, as well as in our present day globalized economy. But there’s change afoot. The recent popularity of political democracies is part of a relatively new global trend. Its evidence can be found everywhere, from the rejection of organized religion, to the breakup of the nuclear family. This trend, the gradual focusing on the individual, on his/her opinions and his/her personal power, unavoidably leads its subscribers to a bloated sense of individual entitlement and a rejection of authority – two traits that ‘just don’t jive’ with our current economic model. Why? Personal entitlement (ex: Loreal’s slogan “you’re worth it”), mixed with innate human greed, fueled the stock (and morgage) bubble, and our rejection of these conglomerates’ unquestioned authority (and therefore their contingent security) popped it!

So what’s next? Our generation has grown up in online communities linked by common interests rather than geography or generalized class systems. A new market model, without getting into all that nitty gritty supply/demand graphing, is on the horizon. The new “microconomy” will use personal entitlement to motivate both buyers and sellers in a net-based network of individuals using their “soft-skills” to meet each others needs and wants. Authority will not be assumed, but will be dynamic and trackable, based on individual sellers’ records (much like Ebay ratings), customer comments, and with how prominently they are linked in the network.

The microconomy will take people out of the conventional workplace and allow them to transition to the soft-skills marketplace of the home and like-interest groups. Skills and interest groups will connect on the network, but will travel and meet physically within the local community. In the old system, we are overly connected, not to people, but to transient images of people. In the microconomy, these people become real and whole.

Convenience and personalization are two key components that must be highlighted in this new model. The microconomy will be about sourcing the best of what we need/want, and making energizing person-to-person connections with new interested minds. The closest analogy would be the ol’ town square. The geographic convenience of a Walmart will be replaced by the logistical convenience of a local network of sellers of “hard” and “soft” goods. People will have the opportunity to specialize in their areas of expertise and interact in enriching ways, while eliminating so much of the “busy work” inherent in administrating and operating our present conglomerates.

There is an unbelievable glut of information, skill, talent, passion, and, yes, even money, circulating in our present economy. The microconomy will eliminate the “middle man” and connect people within their communities in meaningful ways. We are the first generation trained on the tools that will bring it all together. Now if only we could find the time…

(Note: This opinion essay is an original work by Cymbria Wood and should not, in a perfect world, be quoted or posted without a reference to this blog – thank you)