Friday, February 29, 2008

J. Perry, Music Man—Friday Feature

Today’s Friday Feature belongs to J. Perry, my friend and colleague and musician extraordinaire. Not only is this guy talented but he actually created a song just for me on Valentine’s Day! Thank you, Justyn! It was only recently that I learned that Justyn was such a gifted musician. I’ve known him as my friend and colleague at EDGE Publishing, where he serves as marketing manager. I recently invited Justyn aboard Vinny, because I knew he was keen to see the sentient ship and meet my little robot, Harry. It was a trap well set…or so I thought…


No sooner are we aboard Vinny when Justyn starts to fiddle with some of the ship’s settings. I’m annoyed; he’s managed to fix Vinny’s hiccups in three minutes when it’s been two days for me to even identify the problem. We end up in the aft lounge where Justyn roams, curious to see the spectacular view of Earth below us. I have to admit, I never tire of it either. As he accepts a Pink Lady (which is a Smirnoff with a shot of Grenadine) from Harry, who is being very uncharacteristically polite, I bore down on him:

SF Girl: “How would you describe your music? Does it have a name and does it fit into a style or type?”

Justyn: He turns from the view with a grin and eyes his milky pink drink. It reminds me somehow of Pepto-Bismol… “I would describe my music as being either Techno or having some elements of Trance. I used previous songs already composed and created a remix (and changed the melodies as to not infringe on copyright stuff).”

SF Girl: Eying Harry askance as he finally hands me a glass of red wine (he was too busy getting Justyn a snack). “Is music important to your life?”

Justyn: “Yes, because I believe that music defines who you are. Some people like country, some hate country; its all a personal choice that in the end, defines who you really are. For instance, my favorite kinds of music are Techno or Trance, some Country, and some Pop. When I`m feeling down, I listen to upbeat music with a strong bass line, and when I want to feel energetic, I listen to my favorite Pop artist.”

SF Girl: I lean forward. “Who is?...”

Justyn: He just smiles enigmatically at me and sips his Pepto—er—Pink Lady.

SF Girl: Okay, I can take a hint, I think. He’s probably too embarrassed to admit, or can’t remember their name…Wait—no that’s my problem… Oh well… I forge on, “Can you tell me (a person who knows absolutely nothing about digital music) how you create these awesome tunes (in simple terms, like you would a child)?”

Justyn: He grins at me. “Well it’s simple. There is a music program that I use (Fruity Loops Studio Producer) which takes regular instruments (like a piano, guitar, violin, etc) and makes them into a digital instrument in which any pitch can be played. From there, the program goes even further and from those basic instruments, it creates new digital instruments (like synthetic strings or other instruments that would only be possible digitally). It doesn`t stop there... These instruments can be made to sound completely different through filters which will alter the wave form to create yet another digital instrument; there are unlimited possibilities from combinations.”

SF Girl: Thankful that he hasn’t used techno-mumbo-jumbo-lingo, I persist cheerfully, “Are they all original or do you borrow some material from elsewhere?”

Justyn: “I did borrow some melodies,” he admits, “but then altered them to make them my own. They could be classified as remix`s to already existing songs, but I wouldn`t call them remix`s because it sounds different from the original.”

SF Girl: “What inspires you to write music?”

Justyn: “I have always enjoyed writing music. Since I learned my way around the newer versions of Windows (Windows XP), I was using various music programs to create music. What inspires me is the sounds that can be created from a single note, and the combinations of the notes to make a song. I don`t view it as writing music, I view it as creating a story or journey that takes the listener from the beginning, all the way through a climax and then to a close.”

SF Girl: “How long have you been doing it?”

Justyn: His brows furrow and he purses his lips in reflection. “That`s a hard question...” And I thought I was being easy on him, I thought. “I started taking piano lessons when I was in grade
six (roughly 10 years old) for 8 years and loved every minute of it. My parents were worried they would have to push me to practice, but instead it was the other way around; they were always pushing me to be quiet and stop playing. I would sit at the piano for hours and practice a song until it was perfect (or close to perfect). It was my stress reliever - the more stressed I was, the more I played. I had also played the clarinet in junior high for 3 years, which helped me increase me knowledge of music. after piano lessons ended, I still played the piano and looked into how I could make music on the computer.”

SF Girl: Now totally engrossed in the topic, I pursue, “Is the equipment costly and/or hard to learn to use?”

Justyn: “Fruity Loops (the new editions) tend to run for close to $600.00 USD, but there are other programs out there, like Encore.. Sony has some good programs too. Some programs to steer away from (but good for beginners) are the ones that advertise that you too can learn to play in days! (Those are horrible, but if you have no music training, then they are not too too bad). Fruity Loops is somewhat complex to learn. I`m still learning Fruity Loops after using it for close to 7 years (each year Fruity Loops tend to come out with new versions). But there were some years I couldn`t afford to upgrade. The only advice I could give on Fruity Loops is to plod through it and learn by Trial and Error. (Fruity Loops can be downloaded). As for the others, it has been a while since I looked at them. The Sony one seemed to be difficult to me, but I didn`t spend much time with it.”

SF Girl: “What advice would you give someone just starting to do this?”

Justyn: “My advice, is to listen to as much music as you can and surround yourself in the culture with that genre. Read all that you can that is going on with the big guys (For me its DJ Tiesto, Paul Okenfold (I always spell his name wrong), Benni Bennassi, Darude (Still good, even as an older DJ), Wow I feel bad for forgetting another DJ). And always keep listening for new songs, new trends in that genre. The techno genre is constantly changing, however it always revisits and incorporates previously done themes, melodies, what have you. But ya... You can never listen to too many songs in the genre.”

SF Girl: “Is there some place where people can get your music?”

Justyn: “My songs are currently only available on my blog and they will be available for purchase as soon as I get an entire CD available (online only). When I get the CD finished, you will be able to purchase the entire CD or individual songs (getting the CD would be cheaper than buying each individual song).” He then takes a last sip of his milky-pink Smirnoff and smiles at me, quite self-pleased. “Well, Nina, this is my first interview ever! Thank you so much for interviewing me.” He’s thanking me? Then he startles me even more by adding, “And for all those readers out there, the best read I have had this year was Nina Munteanu`s book, Darwin`s Paradox. I would HIGHLY SUGGEST it to any science fiction fan.”

Geez…and I didn’t even pay him to say that! Well, you can listen to the tune he made for me here. It’s called “Into the Night”, rather apt for a mad insomniac writer like me. It's Track Number 5 of his CD, Undefined. Enjoy it and the other tracks… I know a talent agent from Tarken 7 who might be interested.

J Perry

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Your Gene or My Gene?

Most genetic variation is shared worldwide. It is only a small part of human genetic variation that is private to particular continents—Noah Rosenberg

“We’re all pretty much the same except, of course, for the little things that make us different,” writes David Brown of the Washington Post, reporting on the conclusions of three Human Genome Project studies published last week.

All three studies support the notion that modern human beings left East Africa, walked into Central Asia and then dispersed east and west to populate the globe. The studies confirmed that Africans have more diverse genes than people of other continents. In fact, genetic diversity declines the farther one’s ancestor’s travelled from Africa. One study found that Americans of European descent carry more damaging gene variants than African Americans… No doubt “a byproduct of Caucasians’ arduous march eastward to the shores of the Atlantic,” suggests Brown.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Darwin's Paradox Nominated for Aurora

Guess what? My book, Darwin’s Paradox, has been nominated for the Canadian Science Fiction & Fantasy Aurora Award for 2008! I am so jazzed! I should be…This is a prestigious award, basically Canada’s top prize for science fiction writing. And I’m honored to be among some of the giants of the SF & F craft in Canada. People like Robert J. Sawyer (Rollback), Guy Gavriel Kay (Isabel), Robert Charles Wilson (Axis), Dave Duncan (The Alchemist's Apprentice), Tanya Huff (The Heart of Valor), and others in a sea of powerful literature. Here’s some information on the Aurora:

Of course, it’s named after the Aurora Borealis, which has become a glowing symbol of Canada’s beauty and magnificence. Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) are latin for 'the dawn of the north', and were first used by Galileo in circa 1620 to describe the red northern lights phenomenon. Aurora is, in fact, the Roman goddess of the dawn—again, an apt icon for an award that could very well launch some new careers.

This will be the 28th year that the Canadian SF and Fantasy Association awards will be presented. Each year a different convention or group has hosted the awards. The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ("the Auroras") have been presented annually since 1980 with the exception of 1984. In 2008 they will be presented in May at a ceremony hosted by Keycon 25 held in Winnipeg, May 16-19.

On a per-capita basis, the Aurora Awards have the largest voter turnout of any national SF award in the world, exceeding that of the American-dominated Hugos, the Japanese Seiuns, the British Arthur C. Clarke Awards, and the Australian Ditmars.

This year, for the first time, Canadian fans will be able to nominate and to vote on-line at the Prix Aurora website. In addition, over two thousand nominating and voting ballots will be distributed through Canadian SF specialty bookstores (such as Vancouver's White Dwarf, Calgary's Sentry Box. and Toronto's Bakka-Phoenix); with subscription copies of Canadian SF magazines (including the English-language On Spec, Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine and the French-language Solaris...); to all members of various associations for SF writers and many flavours of SC & F Clubs and groups; and at over a dozen science-fiction conventions coast-to-coast. Any Canadian resident may nominate and vote for the best Canadian-authored works of Science Fiction and Fantasy published the preceding year in either of the official languages.
Science-fiction conventions and occasionally other groups bid to be designated the year's "Canadian National Science Fiction Convention," or "CanVention," where the Aurora Awards are presented.

So, if you’re a Canadian (or even if you aren't) and you like science fiction, take a look at the list then read and then vote. This is a good opportunity for readers anywhere to see what’s out there in Canadian science fiction and fantasy.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Critique of the Motion Picture "Contact"

The opening sequence of Contact tells the entire story… It is both spectacular and humbling at the same time as we begin with a view of Earth gleaming in a sunrise. An almost frantic jumble of broadcasts— news, TV shows, music—assail our ears. As we pull back from Earth and pass the outer planets, we hear older broadcasts… disco…Kennedy… the Beatles… Hitler…then ultimately the unintelligible static of all the radio stations on Earth. Then, as we leave the solar system, passing breathtaking nebulae, the sounds give way to silence. A dead silence, as we continue to pull back out of the galaxy and out of the local group of galaxies into the quiet depth of our vast universe. “It’s enough to make you feel tiny and insignificant and alone,” says Maryann Johanson of “Which is precisely the feeling it’s meant to evoke.” From that vastness, we are brought back to our own “mundane” existence within it as the universe transforms into a dark reflection in the protagonist’s eye.

With a powerful entrance like that, it is hard to imagine that this 1997 movie directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump) and based on the novel by Carl Sagan, received very mixed reviews by critics.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Space Traveller Alert: More Space Debris

This is a yellow alert to my alien friends who may be sleuthing near earth or even entering Earth's orbit or atmosphere to buy a Starbuck's. WATCH OUT FOR NEW DEBRIS!

In addition to being treated to an awesome moon eclipse last Wednesdy at 7:30 pm, my fellow Canadians also got to see a bright meteor-like streak in the night sky. No, it wasn't my clumsy friend, Beezl, from Tarsus-9 forgetting to use his "cloaking" device--again. It was a defunct U.S. spy satellite (from the National Reconnaissance Office) that had lost power as early as 2006 and had strayed well below the normal altitude of a satellite. As the 2,270 kg bus-sized satellite careered (at 27,400 kph) through space like a tornado on fire the Pentagon fretted that its 450 kg hydrazine (rocket fuel) tank would spill toxic gas on unsuspecting humans (upon impact). Hydrazine is a colorless liquid with an ammonia-like odour that can harm you if you come into contact with it. So, they shot down the satellite at 133 nautical miles above the Pacific Ocean down with a SM-3 missile from the USS Lake Erie at about 10:26 pm EST last Wednesday (Washington Post).

According to a senior military source (who shall remain nameless) the missile hit the satellite about three minutes after it was launched and the satellite exploded. “We’re very confident that we hit the satellite,” Gen. James E. Cartwright of the Marines, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at a Pentagon briefing Thursday morning (CNN). “We also have a high degree of confidence that we got the tank.” (New York Times). Cartwright also said the satellite seemed to be reduced to small pieces. "Thus far, we see nothing larger than a football," he said. The Pentagon confirmed that debris would enter the Earth's atmosphere right away and burn up on re-entry.

As for the rest... Well, watch out, my alien friends... especially you, Beezl!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Art Movement Are You?

I found this cool personality test on Melanie Faith's blog, A Quiet Symphony. It's put out by Blogthings, which has a whole lot of other amusing self-analysis thingies you can spend ALL your spare time on! Mel came out an Impressionist (good one, Mel! Suits you!). And here's mine (won't Teresa be proud of me!)--I'm a Surrealist:

You Are Surrealism

Dreamy and idealistic, you've created a world that is all your own.

It's very likely that you've either dabbled in drugs or are naturally trippy.

You are always trying to push beyond the boundaries of your culture and society.

You believe that art, love, and freedom can change the world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Speed of Life—Part Two: End of the World?

Speaking of strange winter tornadoes, weird weather patterns, global warming and my palpable feeling of an accelerated life (see my nightmare post), I’m reminded of something my cool friend, Bill Watson of Strange and Cool posted, entitled: “Is 2012 Going to Be the End of the World?” He starts his post with: “I’ve noticed that people have been talking more and more about the Mayan calendar and 2012 and what’s going to happen when that date rolls around. Lots of people say it’s the end of civilization as we know it. Some say it’s the end. Some say it’s a new beginning. Bill is talking about the ancient Greeks prophecy of the Suntelia Aion, “The End of the Age”, as part of a cycle of catastrophe, symbolized by the Ouroboros, of which the Milky Way was an inspiration. The myth refers to a serpent of light residing in the heavens. Viewed at the galactic central point near Sagittarius, the serpent eats its own tail. The sign of the Suntelia Aion is the sun rising out of the mouth of the Ouroboros on the solstice of December, 2012.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tornadoes Connected to Global Warming?

Toto, I've got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore—Dorothy Gale

Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?—Edward Lorenz

Do you believe in fate? I must confess that there is more to my global warming nightmare than I had let on earlier. About a week before having that nightmare, I went to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit a friend recovering from an illness and during my short stay I experienced a winter tornado! I didn’t even know I was experiencing the ripping force of a twister until the day after, when I heard it in the news.

Friday, February 15, 2008

“Emotional Landscapes” by Teresa Young—Friday Feature

I happen to believe that everything that happens in life happens for a reason. This type of logic removes a lot of stress because it allows you to not focus on things that are outside of your controlTeresa Young

I met Teresa many years ago when I moved to Victoria, British Columbia to do my PhD and teach biology. She was this energetic, eccentric, wild-eyed student who worked in the lab that I was instructing. At the time, she was more of an artist than a scientist, and after she broke the last test tube in the lab, we gravitated toward each other like opposite charges and made fast friends.

After getting her degree, Teresa moved back east (that’s to the east coast in Canadian), got married and had a son. She couldn’t stay away, though, and has returned to work and play in beautiful British Columbia. Her surrealistic-abstract work has been described as fluid, bold and explosively introspective. A native of British Columbia, Canada, Teresa has been drawing and sketching pretty well all her life. She paid her way through college doing portraits in the tourist section of Victoria, BC. Now she helps design and implement relational database systems as senior implementation engineer with a web-based software company in Burnaby, BC.
She will be illustrating the PDF/Audio Book of Darwin’s Paradox, expected to be released this summer. I asked her if she’d like to see our beautiful planet Earth from Vinnie in orbit and she didn’t blink an eye to say yes, like I knew she would (she always knew I was an alien, though we never discussed it):
Like everyone before her, Teresa makes the ride via the crystal transporter without so much as a tummy rumble. I can’t say the same for me. Bathroom break later, I show her to the aft lounge where Harry, my irreverent droid, awaits with two Kokanee beers.

I settle into my chair and give my “old” green-eyed friend an appraising look: she’s matured. Gray flecks her thick mane; she’s let her hair grow long and flowing, like her art, and looks relaxed, awaiting my onslaught (she knows me).

SF Girl: I eagerly take the bait and send a barrage of questions at her like a machine gun: “How did you get started in art? How did it develop to what it currently is?”

Teresa: She takes an appreciative sip of her beer and beams an urchin smile at me. “When I was growing up, I was very interested in science fiction and fantasy books. This naturally also influenced my artwork in a big way, but the strange thing about this is, I drew largely in a realistic fashion in my youth. And I never pursued this artistic talent in a serious way as a career option. I think on some level, I had decided that doing it for a job would take the fun out of it. Also, doing portraits as a sideline for about fifteen years soured me quite young on selling my work. It's very rigid, only drawing what people want to see, especially when you are too young to realize that maybe what you want to see might be more valuable to you artistically. To this day, I shudder if someone asks me to draw them!”

SF Girl: I gasp and I’m about to ask another question when she blithely continues.

Teresa: “When I was fourteen, I started drawing in a surrealist style, but never showed this part of my artwork to too many people, perhaps thinking that it wasn't acceptable or something like that. So this part of my style developed separately from my "normal" artwork. I think it's like growing mushrooms in a back room or something.”

SF Girl: “You mean, like crack? What if—”

Teresa: She cuts me off, “Over time, the surreal and the abstract took over my art life. . . . Still in the shadows, developing in its own direction, it had a life of its own. When I am doing a piece, it is an expression of emotion, rather than a representation of a concrete reality. Life flows, emotions flow, and people grow. . . . So my artwork flows. I coined the term "emotional landscape" for some of my paintings; that is what they feel like to me.” She beams.

SF Girl: “But how does that—”

Teresa: She talks over me, “Lately, I have been wanting to seek an audience, so I have been getting some of my art out into the public eye. I was featured in December on an ezine called IAnd you can view a gallery of my work on Strange Horizons. I recently illustrated a story for a new magazine coming out in the next few months called !Ultra. Good thing the editor wasn't looking for strictly realistic pieces!”

SF Girl: I laugh. “But you also do—”

Teresa: She cuts in, “So if you would like to see more of my work, I have some pieces on a community website called webshots. It is quite nice, and they maintain it. (An added bonus for me!)”

She must have met my marketing manager, Karen Mason (SEO), I think, watching her pat a chortling Harry on the head and realizing that I haven’t gotten more than three words in edgewise and she’s marketed her work with the ease of a seasoned entrepreneur. Then, seeing that her beer is empty, Teresa leans forward and claps me hard on the back, then gets up to leave. I sigh…some things never change…
You can read Teresa's thoughts on art and philosophy on her blog, Surrealistic Reflections.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Science & Magic of Love—Revisited

Natural opiods get activated, and you think someone made you feel good, but it’s your brain that made you feel good—Jim Pfaus, Concordia University

Love is the poetry of the senses—Honore de Balzac

To love is to receive a glimpse of Heaven—Karen Sunde

In a previous post, entitled the Science & Magic of Love, I explored some of the current scientific thought on the biology and chemistry of “love”. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I revisit my post and augment with some new information by Jeffrey Kluger of Time Magazine, who kicks off his article with the statement, “Breeding is easy, but survival requires romance too.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dreams, REM & Theta Rhythm

Dreams may reflect a memory-processing mechanism inherited from lower species
—Jonathan Winson

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy--William Shakespeare

Human beings have long sought to understand the meaning or value of dreams. Ancient Egyptians were convinced that dreams possessed oracular powers. In other cultures dreams have been described as inspirational, curative or as alternative reality. Sigmund Freud suggested in his publication The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 that dreams were “the royal road” to the unconscious, that they revealed in disguised form the deepest elements of a person’s inner life.
Since Freud, scientists have variously suggested that dreams were either totally meaningless—simply the result of random nerve cell activity—or that they were a way for the brain to rid itself of unnecessary information, like ‘unlearning’.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Speed of Life—Part One: Nightmare

A few days ago, I had a very weird experience: I gasped awake from a dreadful nightmare. This is weird, because I never remember my dreams. Well, this one was vivid and had me roiling in emotional turmoil. It began vaguely with me and my family in a restaurant in some unrecognizable part of town…it was midday and we were watching an alarming news release about linked turbulent weather patterns all over the globe. The tension that emanated from everyone was palpable, as though I could feel the tension of every person on the planet. I noticed that the sky looked queer, strange. It had grown dark like a deep sea storm and I noticed the clouds flaming with crimson. Drawn by curiosity mixed with dread, I slipped outside to get a better look and walked up the hill a bit to see beyond the building. What I saw was spectacular at first then terrifying: the flame-rimmed clouds were racing across the sky at breakneck speed and against them in gold ochre shades I could make out the silhouettes of the continents, as though the burning sun had flung them up there (okay, so this is a dream, folks!)… As I stared up, dumbfounded, at the clouds speeding across the dark sky, I suddenly realized with gut-wrenching alarm that it wasn’t so much the clouds racing across the sky as the planet speeding up! I could actually feel its rotation speeding up! I could feel the centrifugal pull of its motion unbalancing me. When I awoke, a dark heaviness and foreboding clung to me that I found hard to shake. It stayed with me the rest of the day.

Around the same time that I had experienced my nightmare, a close friend of mine had an accident at her work place.

Friday, February 8, 2008

NASA Launches Atlantis—Friday Feature

Space, the final frontier…To boldly go where no man has gone before…”—Captain Kirk, Star Trek

Yesterday, the space shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven astronauts launched “on spectacular plumes of gold-tipped smoke … carrying Europe’s primary contribution to the International Space Station – the Columbus science laboratory” according to NASA. “The lab is filled with racks for experiments and research equipment and has fixtures on its exterior to also host research exposed to the vacuum of space,” continues NASA. “It represents the latest international addition to a facility already made of structures from the United States, Russia and Canada."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Across The Universe--A Call to Aliens!

Tristran, that Mad Tomato himself tagged me with this very cool MEME and I'm glad to oblige:

Says Tristran: "Today, February 4, 2008, at 00:00 GMT (7:00 p.m. New York /EST), NASA will beam the Beatles’ “Across The Universe” to the star Polaris, 431 light years away (that’s 431 years travel at the speed of light before our all-time favorite Beatles song reaches the 2.5 quadrillion miles away star). This is being done to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the song, the 45th anniversary of NASA’s Deep Space Network, an international network of antennas that supports missions to explore the universe, and the 50th anniversary of NASA."

"NASA has invited people around the world to play “Across the Universe” on their audio systems at the same time NASA beams its mp3 version into outer space. The idea was hatched by Beatles’ historian Martin Lewis, who encourages all Beatles fans to play the track as it is being beamed to the distant star. Additionally, this date will be known as “Across the Universe Day”. The event marks the first time a radio song has been beamed into deep space."

Says Tristran: "Bloggers, let’s do this! ... You can add the playlist to your blog or site." Tristran included its code at the bottom of his site. Please invite other bloggers as well to join the celebration.

I tag the following to join me and post the tune: Somerset Bob; Jennifer Rahn; Jean-Luc Picard; SiFiChick; SciFi Guy; Cassandra; Ilker; Peggy; David; DudeRoks; Uri; Rick; Alien Insomniac; and Earthsky.

Harnessing the Sun’s Energy/Across the Universe

The energy in sunlight striking the earth for 40 minutes is equivalent to global energy consumption for a year -- Zweibel et al., 2008

Energy from the sun travels to the earth in the form of electromagnetic radiation similar to radio waves, but in a different frequency range (Natural Resources Canada). Available solar energy is often expressed in units of energy per time per unit area, such as watts per square metre (W/m2). I’m told that the amount of energy available from the sun outside the Earth’s atmosphere is about 1367 W/m2, which I’ve calculated is nearly the same as a high power hair drier for every square meter of sunlight (okay, someone told me that too!)…

“Solar energy obviously harvests the sun, which on its own currently provides 99% of the world’s natural energy,” say authors of the University of Michigan website for alternative energy.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Fearless Dreams—Friday Feature

Joel’s tag line is: Tools and inspiration to find and live the greatness within you. His blog and his fearless dreams are my Friday Feature today. The first thing you should do once you get on his site is have a look around. Check the tabs at the top and browse his “Life Questions”, “Mind Steps” “Links” and “Articles”.

You can find inspiration on a varied list of topics by clicking the top tab marked “Life Questions”. There you’ll find a concordance of sorts on topics like: abundance; action; busy; change; choices; death; evil; hiding; identity; learning; life dreams; little things; negativity; opposites; passion; play; the shadow; treasures; wishes.

One of my personal favorites of Joel’s topics is that of “play”. In an article entitled “Too Playful or Too Serious” Joel starts off with a simple personality test his daughter challenged him with: “If you had to be one of two animals, a dolphin [playful and perceived as childish and capricious] or a shark [serious and perceived as hard-working and purposeful], which would you be?” He ends his article with these words: “Playful and serious don’t seem to go together, do they? We put them in opposite corners of the ring, determined to see them battle to the death. And we usually put our money on the serious side, don’t we? One-on-one, a dolphin can take a shark any day of the week. Playful isn’t uncaring or cynical. Playful can be focused and relentless. When we’re playful as we pursue our goals, we take ourselves less seriously. We’re lighter, nimbler, and far more able to adapt to whatever challenges we meet. We can be at least as passionate about our dreams as the “serious” guy, but we find a lot more joy along the way.”

Joel writes humbly and from the heart in a lyrical, authoritative yet down-to-earth way that inspires confidence and is invitingly friendly. Just scrolling his home page alone reveals inspirational topics with compelling titles like: “Is Society Based on Fear?”; “Why Do People Use Fear to Influence You?”; “How Do You Live With Fear?”; “Who Tells You That You Are Powerless?” “What’s Your Secret?” “Are You Afraid to Change?”; and the most recent, “Who Are Your Enemies?” His post begins with the sentence: “In the wake of 9/11, the conversations of our leaders, our media, as well as our own private conversations, have become filled with the idea of the enemy, and often the word itself.” This compelling post speaks to us as individuals as well as a society: “Sometimes we make enemies of those who have different beliefs, languages, or skin color. In recent times, the bitterness that often colors the conversations between Democrats and Republicans has become a conversation of enemies, rather than a discussion of ideas.”

For me, it boils down to fear and ultimately to trust—well, the lack of it, that is. We live in a shrinking world of continually colliding cultures. It is a world driven by competition and cynicism and ironically of isolation. Our world is rife with suspicion, mistrust, lack of faith and often paranoia. We fear what we don’t understand; and unfortunately we often “hate” what we fear. And there is, sadly, much we don’t understand about each other: cultural behaviors and patterns; religious beliefs and philosophy; sexual orientation, just to name a few. Even as we, here in the blogosphere, communicate globally as a united community, our counterparts wage war and strikes against other cultures, countries, corporations or even other individuals. And, while there may often be some cause to walk the societal thicket with care and prudence, it is sad to see this happen at the expense of optimism, spontaneity, trust, faith, loyalty, playfulness and the expression of open joy. We fear we will be ridiculed. We fear we will lose an opportunity. We fear we will be left behind. We fear we will be shunned. We fear we will be hurt or lost… And we fear our life away. One of the casualties is our ability to help each other. When is the last time you stopped to help a stranger? Someone you absolutely didn’t know? I honestly can’t remember when I did. I do remember helping a friend recently who I didn’t know completely by going into service in a big way. I have to tell you that it scared me; I was taking a big risk. I had a lot to lose. But it also exhilarated me and made me feel so alive. It stunned me to realize that if it hadn’t involved risk it wouldn’t have meant the same thing to me. I’d reaffirmed my belief that only by making myself vulnerable in giving and being would I realize my place in the world and ultimately find peace (peace of mind and heart). Risk or no risk, it didn’t matter any longer. It was worth it.

So, thank you, Joel, for your words of positive inspiration and for selflessly providing us with the means to dream fearlessly. Blogs such as yours light up the blogosphere.