One damp afternoon in the mid-90s, my mother slotted a cassette tape into our kitchen radio and pressed the giant ‘Play’ button home with a clunk.
It was a story about a little caterpillar called Clive who was having a shitty day. Clive was sad because he had nobody to play with.
Along comes a painfully cheery Butterfly called Bertha, who tries to lift his spirits by pointing out all the lovely things that happened that day, how lucky he is to be alive…yadda yadda.
But Clive doesn’t care. He is enjoying being a miserable sod.
His Eeyore is wallowing.
Eventually, he reveals the real reason he’s sad: he didn’t get invited to a birthday party.
Hardly surprising, what with him being so miserable.
But Bertha isn’t fazed for a moment.
“You don’t need a birthday to have a party,” she says, “because today is your unbirthday.”
And before you could say, “that’s not the ending,” they were up to their eyeballs in tequila and horse tranquilizer.
To days we were born on or otherwise — all worth celebrating!
We are waiting for you.
We are waiting for you to tell us a story — the one that only you can.
We want to hear what the world feels like from where you’re standing.
Do not be selfish with your story. Your story matters.
Open a channel so that it can trickle out and carve a new valley into the world.
We are waiting for you to tell us your story.
Give us a teaser, at least.
The words “Jesus is coming” are scrawled across the grimy cardboard hung over his chest.
Passers-by squeeze themselves around his eager cries and shaking fists, intent on shutting this loud, dirty intrusion out of their day.
Nobody wants to listen because whether they realize it or not, deep down, we all already know that “the end is nigh,” at least on an individual level.
And whether we’re expecting to meet St. Paul on a cloud or slip into a blissful eternal nothingness, the reality is the same. That unignorable, unknowable finality is what drives us to do anything — or prevents us from doing anything.
The fear of it drives us to survive on a physiological level. When that’s covered, we devote our efforts to surviving beyond the grave, in whatever way we like. Most often, we survive through other people.
As my turn comes to squeeze past the pavement prophet, I get lucky. He spins and leaps away to berate those walking in the other direction. One young woman lets out a small yelp of surprise.
As I barrel away I glimpse the other piece of cardboard, slung over his shoulders with a knotted rag.
It reads, “Look busy.”
Before we could write books or draw maps, we told stories to guide our children.
One of the oldest stories is about the Troll who lives under the bridge.
The story is about how whenever we try to cross to better pastures or make a change in our lives — when we attempt to bridge the gap between ourselves and our future self — we will bump into a Troll.
The Troll will psyche us out in whatever way they can: telling us we’re too small or weak or stupid and we’ll get eaten alive. Or that the grass isn’t greener. Or to try tomorrow when the Troll isn’t there (it’s a lie).
The Troll that blocks the path to our dreams is the same nasty, hairy ape that lives in us all: the one that’s scared of change and worries about food all the time.
The only way to get past the Troll — to reach our dreams — is to stamp our hooves on the ground, lower our head, and charge straight through that fucker.
The villain always wins the first Act.
If you’re going to tell a hero story — and believe me, that’s what yours is — you need to have a Long Dark Night of the Soul.
It always takes a good beat down before the hero realizes they had it in them from the start.
That’s just how it works.
In the Real, we go through a couple of these a year. Maybe more.
When the bedroom ceiling starts to become the most interesting thing to watch.
When two bags of chips and a tub of ice cream start to look like a well-balanced breakfast.
When the old drugs don’t work like they used to. And the new ones are making it worse.
It’s time to switch it up. Time to make a plan.
Time to double-down and get pumped up for the come-back.
Time to realize what matters, and that the answer was there all along. Even if we didn’t want to admit it.
It’s time for a montage.
It’s alright to have a little cry first, though.
One thing I’ve learnt writing these blogs is many self-help book authors are liars.
You’d be surprised how many things Einstein, Aristotle, and Ghandi didn’t say.
Today was going to be about “eating the frog.” I’m not sure why Brian Tracy chose to misattribute this quote to Mark Twain, but it’s a great example of why you should always double-check history: some old white bloke is probably twisting it.
“History” is full of misattributions, purposeful or otherwise.
Of course Brian Tracey, the epitome of white America, wouldn’t quote a bastard French revolutionary writer who committed suicide after the democratic government turned on him.
It’s way cooler if Mark Twain said it. Plus, everyone knows who he is.
Most of our history is the result of pandering like that.
Evolutionary Theory wasn’t Darwin’s idea — and it’s unproved.
The richest empire in the world was in Africa long before Europe.
The Nazis got the idea for concentration camps from the Brits.
And everybody knew what happened at those Church Schools long before they started taking childrens’ bodies out the ground.
Why do you think they waited until the perpetrators were all dead?
But it’s only real if it fits the narrative.
The cliche moments in films — the cringy ones you know are coming — are there for a reason.
Take The Magic Juice. Space Jam was where I saw it first.
The protagonist and their team drink some “magic juice” that helps them win against the odds. But near the end, they find out that it was just boring old water, and they had the power in them all along.
This isn’t just the World Mothering Association trying to get you to drink more water and eat some fruit…
The magic juice has to be water because the protagonist has to learn that doing the “boring” stuff we can all do is what makes them a winner. Not some unattainable, magical remedy.
The secret to success is doing the boring stuff, like drinking more water, walking 10 km, doing a bit of exercise. Consuming in a way that doesn’t destroy our planet. Working on something long-term that fulfills us and improves our community.
It’s all small and trite and uncool. Nothing mysterious about it.
But if you can pull that off for any length of time, you win.
This weekend we were basking in some unusually warm May sun when I caught a moment.
It was passing me by and looking the other way, so I reached out and held it for a while. It didn’t mind too much.
While it was snuffling around, the warm, fuzzy little moment told me that all the ups and downs of existence had led it to pass by me at that time on that bench in that park.
All the good and evil of history, the luck and misfortune of worlds, the colossal interstellar explosions and mass extinctions, all so I could gently cook on that park bench, sipping that ice-cold beer, and think, “isn’t this nice.”
I thanked the little moment for coming such a long way to see me.
“Same time tomorrow?” I asked.
But the little moment just winked, and scurried off into the past.
People who don’t like clichés are missing out.
Clichés were passed down over hundreds of thousands of years to communicate the oldest, most profound knowledge about being human. Caveman talk was probably 90% clichés and pickup lines.
Clichés are unoriginal because they’re true.
This is the story of evil: Hurt people hurt people.
This is the story of happiness: Happy people help people.
This is the story of money: You can’t buy happiness.
This is the story of love: If you love it, let it go.
This is the story of heartbreak: It’s not you; it’s me.
This is the story of fate: Everything happens for a reason.
This is the story of revenge: An eye for an eye.
This is the story of fear: Curiosity killed the cat.
This is the story of envy: The grass is always greener.
This is the story of success: The early bird catches the worm.
This is the story of luck: Every dog has its day.
This is the story of patience: Good things come to those who wait.
Don’t let anyone tell you, “it’s just a cliché.” Clichés are the whispers of our ancestors; life lessons learned long ago.
It pays to listen.
This week the internet introduced me to a guy called Kofi who made a great album a couple of years back. If you like good words and chill beats I highly recommend it.
The title track is a great little story about people and making art…
One cold night in Birmingham city center, Kofi stood on a corner rapping as the world walked by.
For hours he spat into the void but folks were too busy Christmas shopping to stop and listen. He knew they could hear and he was happy doing his thing so he kept on going. For hours.
Eventually one person stopped by to listen to him and before too long a large crowd formed. Because when you’re creating, Nobody Cares Until Everybody Does.
And I’ll bet Kofi will be making music long after people stop caring because that is what we do when we decide to create.
Thanks for being the first to stop by and listen.
I hope you stick around.
When people talk about identity what they’re saying is: “This is my story.”
Whether that’s where we came from, what we believe, the food we like or who we have sex with, it’s all part of our story.
For many years I told myself stories like, “I’m not a morning person,” or “I’m an introvert,” or “I can’t write every day,” or “rich people are bad,” or “stopping smoking is hard.”
Worst of all, I told myself I didn’t have anything to add to the world.
But no matter how many times I told myself those silly tales, deep inside I knew they weren’t true. And I was slowly killing myself trying to drown that little voice every time it spoke up to remind me so.
Because the stories we tell ourselves are the fluffy cushions that make our comfort zone so comforting. But they’re also the locks that keep us there.
Luckily, we hold the keys. And it’s never too late to change the story.
Once upon a beach, a girl with one eye said something about pain that still rings in my ears today.
She’d been flung off a speeding motorcycle and had faceplanted a tree stump. It was a miracle she’d survived. The impact took out half her skull, and I could still feel the steel plates in the back of her head.
Typically insensitive, I asked how she’d dealt with losing half her face at sixteen. She said,
“The worst thing that’s ever happened to me is the same as the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. You just get on with it.”
It wasn’t until many years later that I understood.
There isn’t a human alive that hasn’t suffered. And anyone’s hurt is just as valid as anyone else’s.
We might not be equal in wealth or status, but we’re equal in our experience of suffering. Our individual experiences of pain might be different, but we all share in our knowledge of it.
We all share in our trauma, one way or another.
That’s just what it means to be human.
It was always funny to me that dragons hoard gold.
In almost every story we have about a dragon, they harbour some deeply valuable and important treasure; the hero must outwit or outfight the beast to get it.
What does a giant flying lizard want with a pile of shiny metal or a bejewelled cup?
Dragons are a storytelling device; an ancient meme designed to teach us about life. They always hoard treasure because the thing we want the most is always where we least want to go.
If we want the gold, we must first leave our comfortable castles and slay the dragons of chaos within us.
Only then, can we live happily ever after.