Your Label

These words, out of my mouth, often:‌ I’m a selfish person.

In my head, even more often.

I’m an only child. I‌ don’t show the people I‌ love how much I‌ love them. I’ve complained about errands requested instead of cheerfully seizing an opportunity for kindness. I’ve holed up inside of myself, kept contained, not warming, not opening. And many more things big and small.

My mother puts others first, easily and naturally. She finished cleaning off the garden for me the other day – an hour of hard labor – and didn’t even mention it until I was about to go finish the job. “You did what?”‌- me, surprised. Her – a shrug as if it truly was nothing.

With my mother as point of contrast, a selfless person, I‌ conclude that I, then, am selfish. The kid on the stage, the performer, it’s all about me.

This self-appointed label (among a wide swath of others) has been with me for years. I keep it in my front pocket, a scrap of paper, a reminder, a mantra.

What if I‌ could throw it away.

What if the mere act of thinking I’m selfish makes it true.

What if, instead, I thought I‌ was a generous person? If that word was the scrap in my front pocket? I‌ could even support it with evidence. There have been many moments where I’ve been generous. It’s just as applicable as selfish. I’m not whitewashing the truth.

And maybe by identifying with being generous, I’ll then be more generous. A generous person sends a note in the mail, a little reminder of love. A gift given. An errand. A solution. Kind words amply given. My full, undivided attention.

If selfish is my label, maybe I’ll then be more selfish.

If generous is my label, maybe I’ll be more generous.

Maybe labels are just labels. Maybe they evaporate when we stop telling ourselves the same old stories, and come into clear focus when we tell ourselves a new one.

Maybe I’m fluid, not fixed.

I’m not going to be selfish anymore.



You can only go as deep with someone as they’ve gone within themselves. You can only see the territories they’ve uncovered through deliberation and reflection. No one is accidentally self-aware; it’s a labor. Perhaps you can help them plumb new depths and make a discovery; but you’re limited by their limits.

I‌ crave depth like water. I‌ crave understanding: myself, my loves, the universe. I‌ seek it out: I‌ dig, sweating with a shovel, uncovering my soul.

Just as I want to know and understand, I‌ want to be known and understood. It’s not your fault that it’s not your craving. That you’re not drawn to the labor of introspection. You have other ways, different ways, of enjoying life. You dig too, in a different direction and for different reasons. You dig for treasure and I dig for the ocean.


Five-Year Plans Are a Bad Idea

I’m a huge planner. I love sitting down to a blank page to dream up scenarios and make lists. I plan my week ahead. At the end of the year, I like to plan my year ahead. And I‌ love daydreaming about my future self and all the things she’ll have achieved and tried and experienced.

Problem is, it’s a bad idea to make plans based on what you’d like to achieve in five years.

The logic goes like this:‌‌ In five years, I want to be a traveling and performing musician. So then I‌ work backward and figure out what I‌ need to accomplish this year, and then break that down further and figure out what I‌ need to accomplish in the next quarter. Makes sense, right?

This is how I’ve always done it. But life doesn’t work like that.

The universe is really interesting. Some of the coolest opportunities that come to us are totally unexpected, things we could’ve never predicted. We meet new people. We receive a job offer out of left field. A friend tells us they’re working on a creative project that sounds fun, but is completely outside the realm of anything we’ve done. So why plan for a future you can’t predict?

I’m not saying don’t plan at all. And I’m certainly not saying to submit yourself to the whims of the universe, floating goallessly through life.

But there is an approach that makes more sense. It’s in two parts.

1) Take action now. If I‌ want to be a performing musician in five years, that means‌‌‌ I’m really interested in music right now, at this very moment. Therefore I should ride that wave, and take advantage of the energy that this interest in music creates. If I‌ write some music, maybe play with friends, maybe try an open mic night or other type of performance, then I’m already a performing musician. If I enjoy it and keep at it, perhaps I’ll end up a higher-level touring musician in five years. Or perhaps, after taking action on it for a little while, a totally unforeseen opportunity for something else comes up. Maybe I play a show, and meet with someone who’s making a film, and end up collaborating on a film score. You really never know.

But you need to take action on what seems fun and interesting. We often get stuck in research/analysis mode. There’s nothing wrong with research, but it can be a way to delay taking action. You spend three months reading about writing music instead of just writing and experimenting, and you’re no closer to being that performing musician. Whereas in the first example, maybe you’ve already gone up on stage in front of others.

2) Instead of making 5-year plans, consider your 5-year character. We can’t predict the things that will happen in five years. There are way too many wildcards, and life would be boring if you could. What IS worth thinking about, and working toward, is the kind of person you want to be. The character traits you’d like to develop.

Is your five-year-from-now self more courageous? More emotionally expressive? More organized? Honorable? Forthright? Energetic? Fun? Creative?‌ Intuitive? Self-sufficient? Loving?‌ Kind?

Sometimes opportunities arise that allow us to upgrade our character. Perhaps you go through a devastating experience that ends up making you a more compassionate person. Perhaps an experience with being swindled makes you develop more honesty in your own character.

Even though we can’t control the things that happen to us, we can control what happens within us. The kind of person we are right now, and the kind of person we become.

Taking action now on those crazy-exciting ideas is going to make your life immediately better – no waiting for five years. And thinking about how you might improve your character is also something that can happen today.

Who is the person you want to become, and how can you be more like that person right now?


Too Little, Too Late

How many hot cups of coffee do I‌ have left to savor?‌ How many books will I‌ be able to read? How many gorgeous winter sunrises do I‌ have left to witness, driving on the highway, all the whites and blues and piercing cold sunlight?

Hopefully many.

How many times left to watch my daughter fall asleep, in this stage, so small, still a baby even though she’s no longer a baby? She was a baby, and then I blinked and she wasn’t. It goes by so fast.

How many songs left to write, ideas grasped out of nothingness, a tune from another world that becomes mine?

How many more plates of okonomiyaki, or mac and cheese with collard greens, cabbage rolls and perogies on the holidays with loved ones?‌ How many times will I‌ connect with my grandparents, my parents, aunties and uncles and all the rest?

How many more days like this one?

I‌ live like I‌ assume I’ll live forever. I take it for granted. There will be a million more, a million more.

I don’t want to forget to cherish you. To wake up in 50 years and realize it was wasted. It all went by and I‌ was blind to it. Like a dream, a life that evaporates.

I want to wake up tomorrow, and really wake up.


It’s okay.

I’ve been thinking about acceptance. How, in difficult situations, my tendency is to fight the difficulty, to reject it. Like I’m saying to the experience, “this is not okay”.

But sometimes things are difficult. Why reject an inevitable part of life?

This isn’t the same thing as passivity, of sitting back and being punished. The attitude of, “things suck, so why try?”

Rejecting a part of life is like rejecting a part of yourself. This life, it’s full-spectrum.

It’s okay when things are difficult. It’s okay to be lost, to not know the next steps.

It’s okay to live in your heart. Feel it all. Let in the light with the dark. Let in the sun with the storm.

That’s where the love is.


I’m feeling optimistic.

It’s a 45-minute drive from my parent’s place to Jane’s daycare, which is an improvement over the 1.5-hour drive from my house. When we loaded up the car this morning and drove off into the countryside, the sky was black. By the time we reached daycare, the sun was a sliver away from the horizon. I watched the transition, from black to blue, as we meandered down back roads and highways. Watched as night gave way to deep grey, the frozen fields a silhouette, outlined in shadow. Then a lighter, dustier shade, traces of clouds appearing. I blinked and the pinks appeared, purpling the brush-stroked clouds. Like a light-switch was flicked on and the world went from monochrome to full color.

Saskatchewan isn’t known for much. It’s a flat, sparsely populated prairie province, only 1.8 people per square kilometer. People usually just drive on through, seeking a bigger city like Winnipeg or Calgary. Manitoba is flat, but it’s filled with lakes. Calgary has the mountains a short drive away, always in view from the city. Those traveling here note the endless abundance of prairie grasses – wheat, rye, canola, flax, lentils – and declare it boring. Where are the trees, they say? The rivers, the rocks, the mountains, the hills?

But they’re making a big mistake, and that mistake is not looking up. Saskatchewan’s ground-level landscape is flat farmland (unless you venture north, where you’ll find unspoiled forests), but there’s one major advantage of flatlands. The sky is always with you, and the skyscape is superior to any landscape. Land is finite; the sky is infinite. Land is a story that’s been written, words set in stone, an idea that’s been had; the sky is a possibility, unnamed and untamed.

I take comfort in wide open spaces. Driving this morning, the sky an unfolding and ever-changing panorama, I felt safe. My spirit was free. In the city, buildings feel like boundaries to my soul. Mountains, though lovely, quickly become claustrophobic. But there, on the road in the black of morning, the whole universe was opening just for me.


100 bad ideas.

Today’s video is a discussion on art, songwriting, and how most of what I create is garbage…but it’s worth it for the rare times I strike gold. We talk about getting the ego out of the way, what makes an idea good or bad, and much more. Come hang out with me!


Remembering how to be creative

I picked up my daughter from daycare on Friday afternoon to make the 45-minute trek to my parent’s place. We would spend the evening with pizza and celebration and family (Jane didn’t touch the pizza – she much preferred the channa masala we had the next night from the Indian restaurant). It’s a lovely drive around the outskirts of the city, with endless plains ripe with harvest.

As I began the drive, with Death Cab’s Plans in the background to help me think, I fell into an old familiar feeling, one that hits me each and every autumn. The feeling that I should be paying attention because everything is so beautiful, and it’s all going away so soon. The few yellow leaves scattered on the pavement will soon be in piles, and then they’ll make way for snow. Everything changes, so I need to pay attention.

The sunlight seems sharper. There’s more shadow in the blades of grass, bright green and contrasted. The air is cleaner. Pay attention, this is meaningful.

And with it comes the wistfulness. How did summer go so fast? How did the year go fast? How has my life gone so fast? How did I forget to feel like this?

My heart had hardened, somehow without me noticing. On that drive I felt it soften. I felt more like myself.

It’s the busy-ness. The hustle. Forgetting to breathe. Then the first colors of autumn appear like a brake. Remember this? Remember how everything ends?

In the car, I stopped the music. I turned on the voice recorder. Started saying disjunctive sentences, each sentence-end punctuated with my daughter’s decisive “yeah!” from the backseat, her new favorite word. An idea was coming to me, a lyric.

Some of the words were silly and would never see the light of day. But there was an idea I was getting to. I kept digging out the idea for the entirety of our drive, my daughter happily chatting in the background as if we were in conversation, as if we were co-writing this song.

Later that night, long after she was in bed, I listened through the recording, writing the words down on paper indiscriminately. It was two full pages. Mostly coal, with a diamond or two nestled within.

But coal from a spontaneous creative process is still something.

I don’t always remember to be creative. Autumn forces the reminder. I start to lose interest in doing the normal thing (say, not writing a lyric verbally during a long commute). I open up a little, get a little weirder in a way that feels familiar, in a way that feels like the little kid I always will be.

And now I have not only an idea, but also a memory of a time I came back to myself and started dictating a song in the car.

Now to keep remembering.