Another Odd Place for a Hill

The Ongoing Life and Education of Jody Aberdeen


There was once a wild thing that was lost….

I last saw him in the fall, some early blazing sunset of crimson when my legs still carried the skin memory of classroom carpets and little plastic trucks.  The world was much more magical then.  There was a magic in the uncertainty of not knowing what was so, or how things worked.  Without answers, all questioners are left to create.

Notice that I said “create”, not “hypothesize”, for hypothesis is the offspring of science, and science is about finding answers.  Nor is that to make science wrong and magic right. Science carries its wonder in the form of the answers; magic in its wondering questions.  Two different flavours, depending on your appetite.

And magical thinking…it’s an eternal preserve of youth, of those wild creatures we used to have and be before we civilized ourselves with adulthood, and set aside our childish things.


The trigger for this latest ramble? I finished reading Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” in all of its glorious melody. And I found I had to switch my entire way of being to get into it, to pick a time and a place when I knew I would have no other distractions. The short attention spans and busy times of adulthood have a cost in our appreciation of formidable language. At best, we can skip off the surface like a fast-moving schooner or a hapless meteorite, but by gods, once you’ve broken through, the letters and images and feelings just flow around you like an ocean of warm honey.

If you haven’t read “Stardust”, do so, and I won’t spoil anything major, but the notion, just the whole premise of the back of the book, stirs old feelings. A star falls from the sky, and a young man embarks on a journey to retrieve it for his young lover. But to get it, Tristan must cross into the land of Faerie, a parallel world where the star is a beautiful woman, now separated from her thousands of brothers and sisters who wander the night for eternity.

Yvaine, the Star, can never go back to them – “stars fall. They don’t go back up again”, she remarks – and so no matter the outcome, she is assured to live forever on Earth in the Faerie world, looking up from great distances.  Tristan, for his part, leaves behind his family – a father, mother, and sister – who love him dearly, and whom he loves in return, but not as much as the adventure on the other side of the wall.

It’s a world of transfiguration and magical objects, of sky galleons and unicorns, nothing in and of itself unique to Gaiman by any stretch, nor is it simply the meter and flourish of his words that’s gripped me.  Too much analysis becomes dissection, and kills the thing it aims to study in the process. This is the sum total process of the experience that I’m talking about.


That experience took me somewhere beyond the book and the story, to something close to infant memory.  I remember a thick quilt of deep blue, like twilight sky, painted with big yellow stars and crescent moons with smiling, sleepy faces on them.  And I remember as a child being taken out at night to look up at whatever faint stars managed to pierce the light shield of our cities. I remember not being sure of what they were, but looking at them and thinking about the images on the quilt.

Not long after – maybe a little too early – my mom, who worked as a library clerk, brought home a kid’s book on space. I learned that science had found the stars to be giant burning balls of hydrogen that were billions of miles away, and that they were, in fact, not “diamonds in the sky’, but more massive than hundreds of Earths put together. This, I learned, was what the stars really were. Armed with this knowledge, I shared with my classmates, only to be ridiculed. “That’s dumb,” said one kid named Ryan. “Stars are pieces of planets. My dad told me so!”

And I never forgot that, because it meant I was so much smarter than that kid. I had read the book!  I knew what he didn’t, thanks to my Mom.  In the time afterwards, anytime I’d see that quilt, I’d notice the smiling star-faces and crescent moons, and the pleasant, comfortable feeling that came from seeing those familiar forms, and then remember “Oh, that’s not what stars actually are”, and the feeling would go away. An early victim of the Curse of Knowledge.


What if stars were people? An absurd question, but in Faerie they are and, thus, valid to ask. On this side of Wall, the town in the ordinary world that borders the other land, they’re just elements, no spirits, no consciousness. In the real world – our world –  everything is just something that happens, with no meaning or significance. A star falls out of the sky and it’s just a rock smoldering inside a crater, if it even makes it to earth.

Faerie is where so many of our wild selves went, one day, long ago, the parts of us that came up with their own answers to our questions about what the world was.  The parts of us that invented the universe in our own image.

One night, when we were all too young, not long after fact replaced story, they stole out of our homes, like jealous and heartbroken cats that run away after the arrival of a new baby. They crept through the village, past the guards, and bolted through the hole in the wall into the wild, leaving us to discover their departure only too late, to wonder at their adventures and worry about their survival. And we’re left to wonder about it for so long afterwards, well into the conventional drab routine of adulthood. That may be an accidental reason why so many of “Stardust”s pages just sigh with longing.

But what a wild thing I used to have, and be, that primal quality of a five year old living his life in ignorance, coloring his pages with crayons and getting lost in his own limbic imaginings.  And after all these long years of adulthood concerns, of money and entrepreneurship, of services to render and bills to pay, I had wondered where he had gone.

“Stardust” helped me see that that part of me is still alive and well, roving out there in the forests, the mountains, and the skies of that other world, of Faerie.


The Fall Equilibrium

Since I’ve started getting things in my life in order, I’ve had very little I’ve wanted to write about.  Ideas, for sure, but the motivation isn’t there.

The discovery: my historical motivation to write was catharsis, rooted in the dysfunctions of my life. Either that, or I’ve been getting lazy, plain and simple.  For the sake of writing this latest rant, let’s assume it’s the first one.


Reviewing some of the entries of months and years past, I see how just how much of my own motivation was rooted in angst, FOMO (fear of missing out), regrets at actually missing out, recrimination, or just some kind of unpleasantness.  Then I chose to take the Landmark Forum and continued, without any major break, in that personal development and training for nearly two years.

Now, as start my first big pause in this education, I find myself so well versed in the tools of clear thinking, becoming present, and creating from nothing, that my regrets and recriminations don’t motivate me like they used to.

All of that sure sounds very good, but it comes with a cost: my historical sources of motivation to write are now depleted. It’s gotten to the point that even indulging in topics like my divorce, the trips I didn’t get to take in my twenties, the debts, the missed goals, lackluster health…none of it gets me down or angry like it used to.  I’m not quite bulletproof – just catch me when I’m tired or overworked and I’ll flirt with going to the Dark Place – but I re-center myself very quickly.

For the first time in my adult life, I am at peace, and I have nothing to say.  Or is that in and of itself a story?


The other part of it is my audience.  I want the people in my life, in whatever close or faraway orbits they may have, to know me, to see what’s actually happening in my life, not because of vanity or Facebook celebrity, but because it’s easier.  I like the idea of being myself with everyone that I run into, and the practicalities of daily living make this an option that I can’t always choose.

But who cares?  Right?  I mean that in the most literal sense: who cares what’s happening with me?  Who’s interested?  And if no one’s interested, why write?  Why share?

Maybe that’s why lately I’ve spent my time pontificating on issues of the day or big ideas. There are always plenty of those to be bandied about.

Again, it’s not for lack of challenges, I still have plenty of those.  It’s just that the drama around solving them is mostly gone.  There’s an ease in doing what needs to be done.  Ghostwriting wasn’t proving to be a business I was enjoying, so I rejigged my services to focus on editing, with “content creation” being an additional charge, and now it’s off to get new clients.

I’m 25 pounds overweight according to my recent checkup and it’s now simply making more time for cardio at the gym and slashing sugar from my diet. Even when I do freak out about overlapping deadlines that I didn’t plan properly, I know that it’s because I didn’t plan properly, or didn’t work the plan, so I just…well, stop doing that and finish what needs to get done.

Everything’s just so functional, and whatever isn’t working as well as I’d like is in the process of starting to work.

What do you write about when your life is good?

Maybe this is why so many of the self-help gurus write and re-write the same platitudes, over and over again in different forms, what Chip and Dan Heath call”semantic stretch”, the overuse and subsequent exhaustion of a term or expression (such as “awesome”).  The constant recycling of words like “possibility” or “extraordinary” or “amazing” dilutes and devalues the significance of the words with each use, until eventually, they’re just empty slogans at best, neither stirring the hearts and minds of the listener nor invoking any feeling in the speaker.  That’s not the kind of writer I want to be.


In “Garden State”, there’s a friend of Zach Braff’s protagonist who secured a patent for silent Velcro when he was still in high school.  The residuals from the patent made him a multi-millionaire, and by the time we find him in the film, he spends his days living in a big empty mansion, doing mostly nothing.

Years ago, my math-savvy friend Michael told me that one of the consequences of applying the Nash Equilibrium to economics was that economic competition stopped altogether.

In Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” (the book, not the movie), Johnny Rico is dropped on a planet that’s only evolved the most basic lifeforms – grasses and mosses, mostly – because of low levels of radiation that would have otherwise caused evolution.  The planet’s growth was “literally retarded”, according to Rico’s description, in the absence of widespread cell death and mutations.

At the end of the film “Maverick”, Bret Maverick leaves a bag with half of his hard-won poker money near his tub in the spa, far away from his gun, knowing that Mrs. Bransford would come to steal it.  The reason? He was excited at the thought of winning it all back again.

In “Babylon 5”, it’s revealed that the ancient race colloquially known as “the Shadows” would go to the worlds of younger, evolving races and cause strife and war.  They described it like “knocking over an anthill”, solely done to spur on evolution, as most of their hapless victims would rebuild stronger than before.

All of these share a common thread: how we react to balance. It seems that the successful attainment of one’s goals brings two results: a blissed-out and resilient mental stillness and satisfaction with life coupled with a lack of creative drive to do more.

Maybe this is why some rich people keep seeking to add more millions to their fortunes, or why Bohemian artists who struggle to pay bills or eat actual meals somehow become prolific with their works, but never get ahead.


Creativity comes from struggle, not necessarily suffering – which can be distinct from struggle – but definitely from not having all one’s needs met.  The rich and successful seem to intuitively understand this, which is why they know the thing to do upon achieving anything is to set a higher goal than the last one.  Poor broke-ass buggers like me, meanwhile, do the opposite: when we reach equilibrium, we then find ways to sabotage what we’ve already achieved – missing a bill payment, procrastinating until the last minute, getting lazy – so that we can experience that sense of drive and purpose all over again.

And as much as I am enjoying my current respite, it may soon be time to step things up, to start trying for something again.  I only nominally care about achievement or status at this point: my creative destiny may depend on knocking myself out of equilibrium again and getting into struggle mode.  The last time I was striving for something, it was to find a new home to live in with my rescue dog Bella, about a year ago.  I haven’t had any new or grand challenges since.

This time, like last time, when I do knock everything out of balance, I’ll aim to fall upwards.  At least then I won’t only be doing it for the story that would follow.

How I Solved My FOMO with the Multiverse

What makes for a full summer?

Canadians have maybe three to four months’ worth of warm, summer-like weather for the most part.  What that creates in some of us is a quiet awareness in the background of our daily experience that borders on anxiety.  It goes something like this: let us take in the pool, the patio, the cottage, and the sun while we can, for tomorrow we freeze.

That would explain the sudden spike in FOMO during the warmer months.

As I write this sentence, I’m sitting at my dining room table as Labour Day afternoon gives way to Labour Day evening.  A towel has been wrapped around my waist for the past hour, having gotten out of the complex swimming pool just in time to grab a cold beer and barbecue some sirloin and sliced zucchini.  Outside, a warm and heavy breeze is blowing through the trees while I wait for the lifeguard to return from dinner break and re-open the pool for what I suspect will be the last time this season.  Afterwards, I’m contemplating a walk over to Dairy Queen with my dog and sitting under the old tree overlooking a nearby park as the sun comes down.  Maybe with a good book.

Labour Day 2015 had a lot of things happening in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area.  Other options I could have taken today include:

– Taken the train to Fan Expo and gotten my nerd-on with thousands of other Toronto-area geeks clamouring down the parking garage entrance to the Metro Convention Centre.
– Taken the train to the Canadian National Exhibition (a.k.a the CNE or “The Ex” for you non-Toronto folk) and risked my life by riding hastily assembled rollercoasters and eating delicious fried foods.
– Hung out anywhere near the lakeshore to watch the Air Show.
– Gone to see the Jays play.
– Headed down the road to Hamilton to watch the Ti-Cats play in the Labour Day special with my Hamilton crew.
– Probably at least two dozen other things happening in the area within an hour’s drive.

I did none of those things.  Instead, I stayed home in glorious A/C, editing and writing for my clients and cleaning up a bit.  And feeling a bit guilty for not making the most out of the last “official” day of summer in the process, especially after my Facebook and Instagram feeds exploded with pics of people enjoying all of those things.  That’s what the FOMO does.


Back last winter, when my head was filled with possibilities of instant riches and massive immediate success, I pictured that this summer would have been THE season in which I would have waves of ridiculous wealth coming in with little to no work (or at least work that felt like “work”).

And to be sure, I came pretty damn close, drawing in an abundance of work and money…but it was all massively time consuming.  I had to evolve a level of personal organization that was beyond what I wanted to have, and what the ended up looking like was Jody at his laptop for most of his day and evening.

The impact was that I essentially became a hermit, and I got so busy that I missed out on two great times with my friends: my Fraternity chapter’s weekend retreat at an amazing cottage in Huntsville; and my buddy Marc’s 30th birthday in Toronto.

At times like these, the FOMO flares up, and its unanswerable question lingers in my mind: am I making the most of the summer?   This question isn’t the question, though: it’s the lead-in to the bigger question: am I making the most of my life?

Enter Walter Bishop

With the free time I did have during late nights or lazy weekend mornings, I got into the ABC show “Fringe” via Netflix. My housemate Dani said that her previous housemate had described the show as “drugs”, and I can see why. I was enthralled, especially with the second season’s storyline involving an alternate universe overlapping ours in which the 9/11 attacks took place only in Washington, leaving the Twin Towers standing; zeppelins regularly dock at the Empire State Building’s observation deck; and personal computing is so advanced that there hasn’t been a ballpoint pen made for decades.  I was hooked.

The multiverse, however, is certainly not a new concept to me.  The whole premise of my novel “Convergence” is built on the possibilities of overlapping alternate realities created by our choices.  But the multiverse is definitely taking off in popular culture.  There’s even a whole New Age practice called quantum jumping, in which you can psychically “connect” with your alternate in a parallel universe who has everything that you want and whose knowledge and skills you can access, sort of like a certain Jet Li movie, but without any killing.

But if every choice generates its own universe, as spiritual thinkers and cutting-edge astrophysicists alike argue is the case, then there’s absolutely no need for FOMO.  There is no missing out.

Everything All The Time

Think about it.  FOMO, by its very nature, implies that our choices are necessary limits to the full experience of life. But within a multiverse perspective, it’s impossible NOT to experience everything fully, because the alternate versions of ourselves, when viewed as a collective being, are doing that all the time.

Okay, Mr. Smartypants, I’m sure you’re thinking, then maybe this little version of me isn’t so happy with the prospect of not having taken that trip to Paris.  I could give a crap about what the Alternate Me has done about it. What about the individual in this universe?

Frankly, the individual in this universe can chill the fuck out.

Choice is a privilege that many people don’t have.  I think on a certain level, we’re all aware of this, which is why we are so preoccupied with screwing it up. We value choice as a precious resource. However, there is no screwing it up.  Every possibility gets fulfilled in the multiverse theory.  More than that, there are now ways emerging in advanced spiritual practice – I’m sure theoretical physics will catch up to this as well – that claim to allow you to shift your experience into a universe that you actually want to experience.

And here’s the kicker: if such practices work, be they science or pseudoscience-based, we’ll never know, because they involve shifting the reality around us, the water in which we swim.  Any experimentation to verify a shift into a new universe would have to take place outside linear time, a capability that we are still thousands of years away from having.

Quantum jumping seems to be the closest to communicating with the alternate universes, though from what little I know of it, it seems to be that you only get little snippets of the alternate you’s insights, not the full enchilada of his or her experience.

Still, simply the knowledge that there is, somewhere out there in the firmament, a reality in which you did take that trip to Laos, or didn’t screw it up with that girl, or stayed in that job…that knowledge should bring you comfort.  And if it’s not enough, it should at least show you the importance of self-exploration, for that appears to be the access to experiencing the other “yous”.

Once, my favourite author since childhood, Whitley Strieber, had asked in meditation to see different worlds. You can peruse his life’s work at his website for a more vivid picture of what that looks like. The Coles Notes version: he got to experience, in deep meditation and dreaming, what it would be like to be another version of him living in versions of Earth much different than this one. If it worked for him, why not for me?  For you?

If anything, both FOMO and the possibility of the multiverse in which all choices get made should give us pause to appreciate the present.

And what about the last of summer? In recent years, I’ve found autumn to be something of a relief, not just from heat, but from pressure: namely, the FOMO. When the hot sunny days are here, unique opportunities for a full experience of life present themselves, especially in a city where those opportunities only have a life span of a third of a year.

Now that we’re in the last of these hot days, when some sanity and productivity returns to the population’s sensibilities, the feeling will fade. Soon, sitting insife to do my life’s work won’t seem an imposition to the temporary delights of Now lurking outside my door.

Strawberry Fields Forever

I find the lack of reality disturbing. You should, too.

The 21st Century zeitgeist is precisely this whole idea that there is no ultimate reality. At best, we can have consensus reality, an agreement between a sufficiently diverse, numerous, and qualified body of the human species on a specific set of qualities and measures that determine what’s “real” and what’s “imagined”.

It would be fine if this was just limited to metaphysics and psychology, but there’s no way such an inquiry can be contained inside of any one discipline. All disciplines are invented by the human mind, and do not exist in “nature”: that is, the “outer” world of five senses, three dimensions of space, and one dimension of time.

Problem is, that “outer” world of four dimensions only occurs to us through five imperfect biological senses that we have always known are susceptible to error. Consensus reality helps with this – this is why scientists must subject their data to peer evaluation and confirmation – but in the end, there is still a margin for error, no matter how slight, in how humans define their “reality”.

Agreement Reality

I learned a new term at my seminar recently: an “agreement reality”. I have no idea what Landmark’s actual definition of the term is, and for the purposes of this thoughtpiece, I don’t care. All I know is that it’s connected to Mount Everest, Roger Bannister, and the boiling point of water in a stovetop pot. An agreement reality, to me, is synonymous with consensus reality.

Often, it takes just one highly publicized breaking of the agreement to open up space for the advancement of all humanity. You look at them and it’s almost as if the vast majority of people were hanging back for a second and third breakthrough, just to make sure the first wasn’t just a fluke.

A Watched Pot Always Boils

Mount Everest was all but unclimbable until 1953. After 1953, a few more made the ascent. Soon enough, dozens of people were conquering Everest every year.

No one could run a mile in four minutes. When Roger Bannister did it to great fanfare, six people broke the four minute mile the next year.

A boiling pot of water on my stove will shimmer, then ripple, but as soon as I see one bubble, three more appear, than ten, and then it’s roiling, all within a few seconds.

But people aren’t physical objects. Surely some partisan of a Newtonian reality is reading this and finding everything wrong with these metaphors, but that’s just it: you get the idea. Really, you get the idea, because it’s all a series of shared ideas about the world: it’s all made up. And today, that’s what the cutting edge of scientific inquiry is saying is the truth of the matter (indeed, the truth of all matter).

You create your own reality. How much scorn and rejection have those who have made this statement endured at the hands of the very scientific community that’s now taking a fresh look at the nature of reality and thinking “hmmm……”? Could the the scientists simply be the last ones to get in on the joke? Could the mystics and shamans of thousands of years ago right up until 2015 have gotten to it first by other means, using other languages?

Recently, scientists proved the observer paradox via actual experimentation. They’re even fashioning a test to see if the entire universe – from the smallest atoms making up the lettuce leaves in your Caesar salad to the most distant proto-galaxy in the Ultra Deep Field – isn’t some computer simulation cooked up by our descendants from far in the future.

Pay No Attention To the Man Behind The Curtain

Are you bothered by this? I am. And you should be, because if it’s not already just there for us, if the man behind the curtain in the Great Wizard’s hall turns out to be us, then we’re responsible for a lot more than the environment or poverty. We’ve got to take great responsibility with what we create with our intentions, words, and actions, because it’s creating the world around us. These scientists, by even questioning our agreement reality, are remaking the world in language.

So there may be no reality outside of ourselves…fo’ realz. That’s some really sour candy to suck on.

Strawberry fields

Party Like It’s 1199

I would suspect that this discomfort experienced by both Western and Non-Western peoples at this idea are one unacknowledged force behind the fundamentalist backlash we are experiencing worldwide. Of course, the question of reality as a motive for violence probably factors in a little less significantly for the guys being bombed from the sky by flying robots than, say, the getting bombed by flying robots thing. Either way, there’s no justification for violence, even if you can also understand their rationale for choosing a way of life based in Stone Age thinking, and being willing to kill for it.

If the trends seem to be leading to a future with no solid reality that exists outside of our perception of it, or even our own creation, then the only place to find certainty is in the past. (Steven Pressfield, screenwriter and author of “The War of Art”, touches on the differences between the artist and the fundamentalist: you should read his book for his debate-provoking insights.)

Can’t Touch This

If my education over the past five years has shown me anything, it’s that people will justify anything with anything, including avoiding responsibility. This isn’t the same as control. Everyone from Warren Buffett to Shifu from “Kung Fu Panda” will tell you: you can’t have a baby nine months faster by getting nine women pregnant. A peach seed will never grow into an apple tree (not without some serious genetic engineering, anyway).

Responsibility, however, involves acknowledging one’s power to alter the conditions that are within one’s sphere of influence. When you look at it, that sphere can be much larger than you might expect for yourself. That means that we may be on the hook for creating more violence, cynicism, pollution, heartbreaks, atrocities, and scandals in the world than we want to believe. And that would well and truly suck.

So where does that assertion leave us on the question of reality? For myself, I still would love to have science verify everything. I would love to know there’s something beyond what my mind and body can touch.

And it’s a simple matter of faith that science will get there eventually. But when science shows a pattern of being the slowest on the uptake, then I have to wonder if Mercury really does fuck everything up when it’s in retrograde, or if a simple act of visualization can bring me that car and ideal body faster. I have to wonder if meditation in the park may legit bring about world peace and harmony.

Reality.  Nothing is real, nothing to get hung about. Seriously, why aren’t you freaking out?

Channeling My Inner Klosterman

A few weeks ago, on my way to a birthday barbecue with my girlfriend’s family in St. Catharines, I called in an order to the Universe for an answer to this question: what’s the thing that I’ve wanted to say for weeks, but haven’t said out loud for fear of offending friends, inviting disagreement, or otherwise looking bad?

On the traffic-laden drive down from Clarkson, I found myself activating the Voice Recorder on my phone.  My order to the universe had come back in 30 minutes or less.  Here it is transcribed,  cleaned up only for grammar and spelling and such things:


When you live in a generation in which everyone is raised to be a superstar, the only way to buck the trend is to deliberately choose ‘failure” and mediocrity.

There actually is nothing great about our generation.  We’re a privileged little bunch of shits.  Even if you were born broke, you’re still born with these expectations that someone is just going to hand you a job.

Everything gets cheapened and diluted here. Everyone’s got to be a superstar which only cheapens and dilutes superstardom.

When the previous generation found out that they weren’t all going to be movie stars and astronauts, they started fight clubs.  When this generation finds out the same, they start Tumblr feeds.

Everybody is a sudden expert. When did everyone become such a fucking expert?   You write a couple of things and suddenly you’re an expert author and writer and coach  You open up a small mom and pop shop in the middle of a shit part of town, and suddenly you’re an “entrepreneur”.

Even worse, you may decide you’re going to be an entrepreneur and your whole business revolves around telling other people how to be an entrepreneur.  You got rich off of nothing, like a snake eating its own tail, like blowing oneself.  That’s really what it is.  Imagine an entire generation that makes its fortune off of masturbation, auto erotic asphyxiation.

And in the face of this, all of these images of mansions, we have McMansions.  Someone figured out how make a widget for mansions, too, as if there wasn’t already a market for it, as if you couldn’t already get rich doing that.  And now you go about making six figures and still being broke, living the same type of lifestyle you vowed you wouldn’t live.

Where are the authentic people anymore, the real ones?  They ‘re living poor, not beyond their means.  They’re leaving for each other to make themselves happy.  And yeah, they get into scrapes, they get into fights, they sometimes don’t vote or pay their taxes or credit cards, but they try their best.  But this isn’t an avocation for the working man and woman, either. It’s just for something that’s just goddamn real for a change.

Bigger species on this planet, dinosaurs and mastodons, died out because they consumed too many resources and when the environment changed, there wasn’t enough for them to fill their bellies.  And we know what we’re living through: there is an overabundance of things here, but at an environmental expense, and all the people living large, they’re just tomorrow’s dinosaurs: what happens when things dry up?  How will you live without your mansions, without your trust funds, without your swimming pools and movie stars?  What are you going to have then?

Maybe the single biggest hypocrisy out of this generation has been that we vowed we wouldn’t be workaholic parents and divorcees, that we would lead good meaningful lives, we would make something of ourselves, and then stay together for the sake of the kids and raise the kids well on solid values.  Instead what we’ve done is turn dating into a commodity.  We have a higher divorce rate than our parents did, and we’re just as hooked on the toys growing up as we were when we were kids.  Maybe even more than our parents.  Who here doesn’t have an iPod?

chuck klosterman

Lessons from a Ghostwriter (So Far) – Part 1

invocationofthemusesIn theory, the preference among those lost in the maze of freelancing should be to heed only the advice of those who have already found their way into the clearing of success and establishment.

However, we can also think of freelancing as a labyrinth, and the nature of a labyrinth is that no matter how ahead or behind you may be compared to others, you’ll eventually find your way out.  This means that sometimes it bears listening to someone who’s still in the brush, but fifty feet ahead of you on the same path.

They may not be able to speak in confidence and authenticity about the exit, but they know more about the forty-nine steps ahead of you than you do.  They will eventually get there, just like you.

In July, I’ll be a full year into full-time professional writing.  Ghostwriting as a vehicle has not yet delivered me all of the results, in the form of financial measures and renown, that I would like. As those measures have been ever-evolving throughout this process and as I have been acquiring new experiences and insights, this isn’t entirely caused by writing as a vocation.

Declaring a new path and walking it are two different things, and in the final analysis, what I want from those who would be my guides is lived experience and evidence, not mere possibilities.  

I know of no other way to be credible with those looking to take those first steps on the path to making a living and a life by doing what they love. As with any trade, the awareness is something that can only come over time.

Staying true to that commitment, I will only share what I know to be true in evidence, not theory, with those who follow after me.


In the beginning, I priced myself much lower than what the market can bear for my book ghostwriting services.  In so doing, I was able to secure clientele out of the gate who otherwise might not have wanted to pay regular rates for a new writer.  Not long afterwards, I let slip the ropes from my full time day job and set out on the open seas of freelancing with an eventual aim towards true entrepreneurship.

I don’t think I could have asked for more inspirational projects to start with, some of which are still in progress.  I’m very happy and grateful for the relationships I’ve built up with my authors during our time together.

Ten months later, though, the original pricing regimen no longer works to pay my dues, and about two months ago, I realized that the time had come to raise my rates for new clients.  Almost immediately, all the stories of self-doubt that, like most writers, I carry around in my subconscious at all times, popped up.

“You can’t raise your rates, Jody.  You haven’t been in business long enough!  You don’t deserve it!  You can’t do it!” along with other blah-blah-blahs of the background mindchatter.  This is, I would assert, a common phenomenon with many self-employed creatives.

Ultimately, the mindchatter means nothing.  Pricing ghostwriting services has nothing to do with one’s personal worth, even one’s experience, and only slightly about previous results and experience.  Pricing is entirely based on what’s practical, given the realities of what it takes to ghostwrite a whole book.

Money Buys Time, Time Equals Quality

Quality work is time-intensive, plain and simple.  You need to have the time freed up to focus on producing great content, to do your research, to learn your subject matter so proficiently that you can write in the same voice as your author, who has already spent years developing his or her own expertise in the subject.

A ghostwriter simply can’t deliver quality if what they are earning from the work doesn’t pay their bills. I’m hard pressed to imagine any professional in any other trade that would.

In such a scenario, the writer would have to take on other smaller assignments to make ends meet. This has a cost in time, momentum, and peace of mind.  Even when fulfilling on the contract, in the back of the writer’s mind hover all of those anxieties about notices and collections, debts and scarcity.

If he has to, he may even have to go back to a “J-O-B”, which would pay his bills, but significantly reduce his available fulfillment hours.

It all has a cost in the quality of the book that the writer has to deliver AND the writer’s ability to deliver. This is what has happened to me lately, and so from here on out, I have raised my prices for new clientele.  Far from being too expensive, I’ll now be priced according to the minimum amounts stated by the 2015 Writer’s Market for ghostwriting a single manuscript (roughly $20,000).

Your rate has nothing to do with your value as a person.  It’s everything to do with what you need to have in place in your life to do the work, deliver it on schedule, and do so with excellence.  Show your prospects the value of your work and how you can help them, and the right ones will hire you. Plain and simple.

(For more, read “Lessons from a Ghostwriter (So Far) – Part 2”)

The Missing Mission

artcommerceI don’t want to be a “businessman”. Never did. I’m a writer.

It’s true: by many assessments, I exhibit all the traits of an entrepreneur. Ghostwriting is a business. Coaching is a business. But I was never interested in being “in business”. All I’ve ever wanted to do is making a living and a life doing what I love.

It’s a constraint of today’s language, the contemporary nomenclature we use to describe people and the specific things those people do that carry certain similarities to each other. English has a special built-in disposition to categorization and division. Separating and parsing concepts and ideas and all of their subjects ad infinitum.

Deep down, I am not an “entrepreneur”, though I’ve described myself as such in the language of the trade. I never had a deep seated yearning to open a “business”, though in reality, that’s what I’ve done. The concepts and names seem divorced from “art” in my perception of the terminology, in a way that many of my colleagues who have “creative businesses” don’t seem to experience. As long as it occurs that way in my perception, that’s what I’ll experience, much the same way that the Inuit can experience multiple types of “snow” in their occurring of the world simply because their language has words to describe them.

I’m lacking a single word that captures the artistry and the enterprise of what I do in one fell swoop, and because of that, I’m two minds about my role in the world.

My intention again: making a living and a life doing what I love.

“Writer” is the basic word that describes the “what” of this intent.

I “am” a human being who writes, not an author, not a ghostwriter, not a copywriter, even though I “do” authoring, ghostwriting, and copywriting. “Writer” is simply “what” I am doing; the rest are all subcategorical manifestations of “how” I do what I do, not identities in and of themselves.

And yes, my intent requires learning the technicalities of business, but I’ve recently become present as to how much I’ve been trying to cloak myself (that is, my “self”) in the shiny identity of “entrepreneur”, to parse myself into the language of “business” which, in my occurring of the term, is a diminishment of what could otherwise be a spiritual calling.  I don’t share the same fascination with entrepreneurship that many of my colleagues do: like a snake eating its own tail, my journey along this path seems to have come full circle.

My authors aren’t mere “clients”, they’re friends and visionaries, partners in co-creation. When I come from that space in my work with them, we join the high vibrational “flow” of creation. When I see them as “clients”, however, it becomes stilted and non-productive, an “us and them” context sharing way too much with the corporate work I was doing before for my comfort level.

Traditionally in “business”, it’s bad to look bad, even if the thing you have to express is authentic and real. Especially if it’s real. In this way, “business” and trying to squeeze myself into “entrepreneur” is a constraint on my full self-expression.


Beyond all labels and categorizations of an imperial language, beyond the two-dimensionality of the trade, of using a social medium as a 21st Century version of newspaper want-ad, there is a far larger existence, a grander reason for why we are nowhere: that is, “now here”.

All that’s missing is a mission, a future that’s so compelling and beyond the limitations of me that I would be pulled in rather than having to push myself to enter.  I have the “what” and know the “how”.  What’s my “why”?  Mere survival doesn’t inspire me: it’s what I’m doing right now.

I don’t have one, and I feel that I need one. But what could it be? And will it stick? The half-life of all the previous candidates for a mission-centric future has averaged only months before I start looking for the next thing.

What could it be?

Until it finds me, I’m legitimately afraid that I will continue to chase my own tail and go nowhere, all the while mistaking every new lap on the same racetrack as progress.

The Cinderella Effect

The dream was lurid, and though only dead now for a few minutes as I begin, the afterglow still floats in the middle of my chest like a stubborn, anemic heartache.

Soon, it too, will be gone.

I dreamed of my classmates last night, gathered together one last time in celebration out on the town.

barThe party was joined by hundreds of others and spanned houses, hotel rooms and lobbies, bars, and coffee houses throughout the archetypal nighttime city of my subconscious, all separated by what in real life would have been great distance, but thanks to the ephemeral reality of the dream, were easily crossed in seconds and thoughts rather than steps and miles.

There was great drinking and laughing, people playing pool, dancing. A few clustered together in deep, significant conversation, engaged in their fascinating intellectual co-creation. Others sat huddled together, wiping tears from their eyes and holding each other in heartfelt love and consolation at the inevitable, drawing closer with every tick of the third hand on the clock.

Still others were nowhere to be seen, and their absence was a splinter wound on the heart: not fatal, but the ache to see their missing faces ran deep. Though not dead, they were not here, they were not now.

They had missed the only chance to step into the stream as it was tonight, and we all felt heartsick at the diminishment of “us”. As far as the moment was concerned, that diminishment was forever.

For my own avatar in this dream, I experienced him getting tired around the 3am mark. He looked around his peers with a silent, desperate reluctance. To honor the body’s desire for rest or be with this? But what else was there, after this? A sunrise and a waking up. Some dim awareness of a job and a life,of seeing the same individuals under different lights, one at a time.

Obeying his body’s needs, my dream self left the party, returning to the lobby of his hotel only to find that it was not yet the end, that there was still some money in the meter.

Drawn back to the festivities in those predawn hours one last time, my dream self returned to find many others had gone, or had changed clothes and packed their suitcases. There was talk of impending bus arrivals and airport shuttles among the travelers. A few sat in tear-stained smiles holding hands and trainstationgoodbyestaring out at the brightening glow outside the windows.

And soon, I – the person writing this now, in this reality/dream – found myself beginning to wake up into my own pre-dawn darkness….and the stubborn heartache has nearly exhausted itself. Typing on fumes with still that last mile to go.

When two or more are gathered together in a conversation that matters, it’s always a sort of fairy tale celebration, a deliberate dream weaving. Inside of it, we spin ourselves into whatever forms and avatars we choose. We dance in the conversation, we eat from the banquet table, we share our hurts, our angers, our fears, and our passions garbed in the most elegant of dresses and dapper jackets.

And then, before we know it, the clock strikes midnight, and the coach turns back into a pumpkin, and we all go home, as individuals…

It could be our preoccupation with “forever”, with “preservation”, with “keeping it going”, though born of good intentions, is misplaced. When we roll the credits on the film, or close the last page of a beloved novel, the Bittersweet leaves us present and so utterly alive with love and grief, creating a possibility of reverence that we bring to bear on the first page of the next book, the first scene of the next film. The twinned illusions of “forever” and “keeping it going” rob us of that delicious vitality.

Where we are at right now, and who we are with, carries all the permanence of a breath vapor on a cold spring morning. Bear witness to the mist while you can.

Vanilla Sky1

Unconventional Bohemia

What a time of life this has been, and continues to be.

Mid-thirtysomething lived as though I’m 23 and hungry for an existence outside the comfort of Mom and Dad’s ivory tower, away from the sticky-floored subsistence of the student home or the sadness of the broken marital home.  Solitary for the time being, but missing the security of friendly murmurs down the hall or downstairs.  No more steady harvests from the 9 to 5 work farm, thought those staple crops always remain available.  Instead, I’m a hunter and trapper, laying cages in the snowy woods and moving through the brush looking for my next paycheque.  It’s the freedom of tomorrow’s self-made man still in the making.  I don’t miss the office, am still fair-weather friends with the warehouse production line, and though not worth the time, I still retain a heart-ache for the retail book store life, and the fun I had there.

sunflareWhat does 21st Century bohemian living look like?  It could take the form of sitting upstairs in a townhouse with a sleeping dog three feet behind and to the right, writing the next big bestseller on a six year old laptop that’s stood the test of time.  It could be shopping for fixtures and staple items at Dollarama before heading off to help a housemate find work in the area.  It’s listening to Vance Joy, Stars, George Ezra, and the Lumineers on the radio while I drive to faraway cities for my personal development courses,  watching the snow-covered houses of little towns and villages along the mountain-framed Interstate and wondering, “Who lives in these places?  What’s a day in their lives like?”

There’s a richness to the human experience that transcends all boxes and slots of age, race, income, faith, or celebrity. For this wordslinger-for-hire, life outside of the old story of where I “should” have been by 34 years old is proving to be an unconventional Bohemia.  In this alternate timeline, “truth” is found in both in the verifiable facts of the world and the stories I invent about them; “beauty”, in the barren, post-industrial train tracks behind the townhouse complexes by the lake, in old brickwork buildings finding new life as coffee houses and apartments; “freedom” in the thrill-terror about being fully responsible for the matter of one’s existence that strikes in the first thirty seconds of waking; and “love” in no particular person, but in myself and the world, the boundaries between them existing only as linguistic conventions.

There is so much more road on the horizon.  This morning, I’m anxious to start walking again, to see where I’ll end up by the dusk.  I’ll let you know what I find.

2014: Back to the Drawing Board

Sunset2014I’ve been having trouble getting this entry done.  There are so many ingredients that I want to chop up and throw into the mixing bowl that my brain just sits there, looking for some momentary pleasure to distract from the unpleasant feeling that non-performance brings. Sometimes, 9gag really can be a blight upon the world.

Multitudes of ingredients, not always the significant turning points or major events of a year gone by, but this time, little moments.  Moments like driving on the highway a couple of days ago and catching a light from my cellphone, glancing downward, and seeing not a notification signal, but the waxing moon set against reflected skies.

Sitting atop a grassy hill in a Burlington suburb this past August with two dogs that I was looking after for a friend, one of whom would become my own only two months later, under highly unlikely circumstances.

Walking the historical district of Philadelphia, past the gravestone of Benjamin Franklin and the hall where the United States first came into being.

Biting into a glorious salty and umami slice of New York City pizza in the shadow of the Freedom Tower under the last of the warm skies.

Attending my first conference as an author at the ROM, my confidence level as big as the T-Rex fossil in the main foyer.

Enjoying post-reception lobster omelette at a French restaurant in Yorkville with the newlyweds and party members, some of my closest friends.   The list goes on.

Little moments, multitudes of them. No way to capture all of them, or their meanings, certainly not in a single sentence, like “2014 was amazing”.  Maybe that’s just a hang up, the source of the blockage traced back to the feeling of necessity of inclusion, that I simply must write about 2014 and summarize it.  Much like sharing family vacation photos with people who didn’t go on the trip, I’m pretty confident my recollections of 2014 aren’t nearly as fascinating to anyone reading this as I should want it to be.

More than that, I myself am not nearly as interested in the moments of the past year or their meanings as I am their one common component.

Namely, the feeling of aliveness.

Take ResponsibilityAliveness.  Vivaciousness.  Vitality.   The challenge of being an English speaker is that our language collapses numerous combinations of meanings and definitions into the same word…or the same meaning across different ones.  I ain’t no linguist, so if you are, I’ll leave you to indulge your fascination on your own time. On the subject of language, however, I will say this much: 2014 showed me…no, helped me truly experience, that the world as we know it is created out of language.

Without a word for it, a “thing” doesn’t exist, and when there are too many or too few words common to that same “thing”, we find ourselves stuck, like a hobbit in a spider web, entangled in our own semantics.  And it’s all fun and games until we realize the connection between our words and the way we perceive our lives and the world. Then we see that our being stuck in the web equals being stuck in our dead end jobs, in our shitty relationships or singledoms, in whatever craptastic circumstance that impacts our ability to live life fully.  Or, if life is good, we start to see the limitations in place that keep us from taking it to the next level.  How we do anything is how we do everything.

Often, though, recognizing the connection between “word” and “world” helps us see that we’re just well and truly effed.

I’m tempted to call 2014 my Landmark Year, simply because it has been the single biggest difference in the quality of my life this year….but I won’t, solely because of the incredibly lame pun that would result.

Still, the Landmark Forum did help me untangle ideas that I had collapsed together that created very crippling contexts in areas of my life before.  Among my breakthroughs, the one with most relevance to what I want to create in 2015 is this: for me, all words, all material accomplishments, all possibilities are merely access to the same way of being: aliveness.

A few days ago, I allowed myself to fall in love with the idea of being in a relationship once again.  I’d been resisting dating most of the past year as I built my entrepreneurial career, rescued a dog, and started the process of moving out again, but this time, I allowed myself to enjoy the idea of it.

How would I feel to hold the hand of a girl I love, to hold and be held,kiss and be kissed back under falling snowflakes or tropical skies?  Amazing!  Spirited!  Passionate!  ALIVE!

bellagrassA couple of weeks before that, I was out with my dog, Bella.  Bella could set a land speed record given the proper terrain and nutrient level in her blood. Take her off leash on an open field and tell her to run, and she’s off before the “n” sound leaves your mouth.  Again, all fun and games until Bella sees another dog or a large human male, which is what happened in that case.  Feeling my chest tighten and my lungs burn as I tried to catch the little black and white blur, I thought to myself: I need to get back in shape, if for nothing else than to be able to keep up with my own dog!

Then I wondered, what would that be like, being in tip top shape and able to keep pace with this spirited little half-Bluetick, half-something-or-other, to run with her rather than after her?  Amazing!  Energizing!  Present!  ALIVE!

Same thing with money: how would I feel about having complete faith of knowing that I always had more than enough money to support my lifestyle and what I wanted in life?  I’d wake up every morning excited to greet the day.  I’d feel amazing!  Grateful!  Abundant! ALIVE!

You see the trend by now, I’m sure.

And here’s the trick: if you want those things that give you the access to feeling aliveness, you start by feeling the aliveness first.  Then you build in structures in your life – meeting the people you need to meet, developing the skills or acquiring the information you need, or cultivating the habits that you need to have – to bring the aliveness out of your own head and into the world of experience so it can exist beyond your mood of the moment.

Then, you watch as the relationship, the job, or the material goodies that you think will give you that feeling of aliveness appear, seemingly like magic.  By then, however, you’ll understand: you don’t need the lover, the vocation, or the toys to give you aliveness: aliveness is what you’re already being and feeling.  All of those people and things are drawn to your song; they aren’t what cause you to sing.

That’s what I discovered- no, lived, in 2014.

There’s an American English expression. When something doesn’t go the way we want, we “go back to the drawing board.”

Imagine such a board.  Since my student days, I picture the chalkboard in the lecture room inside McMaster University’s Hamilton Hall, circa 1999. In its pre-renovation state, it was the quintessential college classroom: big windows, auditorium seating, little swinging lap-desks for taking notes on pen and paper (does that still happen today?).  At the bottom were these four big green chalkboards, and always white or yellow chalk sitting in the dusty trays.  That’s the room I picture when I hear the phrase “back to the drawing board”.

Everything starts with a mark on a surface.  It’s the first act of all art, all design, all engineering….and all language.

The end of every year brings us back to the drawing board in our own lives, so that we can design the next one.

In my mind’s eye, I go back to my drawing board for 2015, and as I pick up the chalk, there’s only one word, one possibility, that I choose to create, for it is the source, reason, and motivation for anything else I would ever want to have, do, and be.

In 2015, the possibility I am creating for myself and my life is the possibility of aliveness.  And as a favourite sci-fi writer of mine once added, “everything else is negotiable”.

May whatever you create for yourself mean just as much for you.

Happy New Year!


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