My Olympic Sport

Olympic Rings

With surprising frequency, the International Olympic Committee adds new sports to the Olympics. For instance in 1936, at the Berlin Games, Basketball was added. In 1964 – at the Tokyo Olympics – Volleyball joined the list. More recently, tennis and mountain biking were added. And finally, at this summer’s Olympics it will be golf.
So, I can still hold my breath that in my lifetime my favourite sport will be added, and with the advances available in medical technology maybe I will even be able to compete.
For my favourite sport, my favourite pastime, is, in fact, complaining. From traffic to tourism, advertising to Zoolander 2, I can complain about it.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that complaining is a sport normally reserved for the elderly. True, in times gone by the aged had the advantage in the sport of complaining because a popular style of complaining is the ‘things are not as good as they used to be’ school of complaining. And the older you get, the easier this becomes.
The beauty of this style of complaining is that the comparison can age along with the complainer.
For example, today an older person – like myself – might say that movies are not as good as they used to be – now they are all franchise films and explosions.
But 30 years ago, an older person – like myself – might have said that movies are not as good as they used to be, they’re all science fiction and sex.
Even 80 years ago an older person – like myself – my have said movies are not as good as they used to be – they have sound.
The truth is that the ‘good old days’ are always in the past, and the past can be rewritten.

But I’m here to tell you that complaining is NOT just a sport for the aged. It can also be a younger persons game. I know, I know – the ‘not as good as they used to be’ part of you is saying that young people today aren’t smart enough to complain like you used to complain when YOU were younger.
But the youth have an advantage that most of us when we were young didn’t have – the internet. And with the internet comes one of the most powerful tools in the game of complaining: a little bit of information. Not a LOT of information, because you don’t need a lot of information to complain about something. In fact, it’s better to have just a little bit of information. And even better still if that information is wrong.
Because if you have a lot of information about a subject a couple of things happen: first of all, you can cross dangerously from complaining into criticizing. Because a critic is someone who can complain about a subject, but back it up with lots of references and historically accurate information. And of course in today’s fast paced world, being historically accurate and being able to back things up with valid references also means one more thing: you are boring.
Because the thing about complaining is that you are voicing the opinion of the common man, not some over educated elitist. And of course the common man, as any good complainer can tel you, is an idiot.

If complaining made it into the Olympics, like figure skating or gymnastics it could have a long program and a short program. For the long program I recommend equipment of a sofa or a bar stool, or perhaps as a long distance phone call with your mother. The short program could be held in the aisles of a grocery store.
Certain categories would have to be covered – the stupidity of television presenters, for example.
That could be followed by how money doesn’t buy you what it used to. Of course the triple salchow of complaining would be to let your ignorance of art not stop you from complaining about how ridiculous modern art is.
Of course modern art has always been ridilculous, even when modern art was the impressionists.

I have a new appreciation for complaining since I turned 50 last month. I woke up on the morning of turning 50 with a back ache and a craving for a Cherry Blossom…not the Sakura of Japan, but the sickly sweet chocolate covered cherry candy made in Canada in the 1970s. Because the candy of today just isn’t as good.

0109-lowney-cherry-blossom-01

I also see that now I have a chance.
I am gathering signatures online for adding complaining to the Olympics, even as a demonstration sport.
As a quick aside there are many humorously named sports that have been demonstration sports at the olympics: Bandy, Skijoring, Kaatsen – which is not Cat juggling, as I had thought – and my personal favourite, Korfball.
In the past such sports as pigeon racing, kite flying and even fire fighting were demonstration sports and never made the real olympics so why not complaining?

But I doubt they’ll accept it. The Olympics aren’t as good as they used to be in the old days.

I originally gave this as a speech in Sendai, at the Sendai Toastmasters Club

Every Story Ever Told – My take on the Hero’s Journey

[ What follows is the script for my Toastmasters Speech #2, given in Sendai, Japan]

Introduction

What if I told you that stories as diverse as the ancient Chinese fable ‘Journey to the West’, the life of Jesus as written in the New Testament, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the 12th Century Japanese work Heike Monogatari, the Harry Potter books and almost every action and fantasy work ever filmed or written all followed the same pattern?

I want to expose that pattern to you. It will give you insight into movies and stories, and quite possibly change the way you watch and read them for the rest of your life.

Back in 1949 a man named Joseph Campbell first published a book called ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, where he broke story characters down into a series of archetypes or character patterns. Campbell travelled the world, including a stay in Japan studying folklore and Noh theatre, and honed his theories into something called the Monomyth.

I want to cover archetypes in another speech, because today I want to focus on the Monomyth, or as we often call it – The Hero’s Journey.

 

My simplified Hero's Journey Diagram

Body

The Hero’s Journey is broken down into 12 basic stages.

Stage 1 – The Ordinary World Whether you are a carpenter or a spaceman or a boy who will be king of the wizards, you inhabit a world that is ordinary to you. Every story needs to show the ordinary world of the hero before it can explain the ‘extra-ordinary’ world he is about to enter.

Stage 2 – The Call To Adventure This is where our main character, our hero, has his world changed. Either externally or internally. Maybe an old wizard shows up and invites him to join a quest – as in Lord of the Rings, or a princess appears in a hologram as in Star Wars.

Stage 3 – Refusal of the Call Our hero says “no, I don’t think so” to the adventure before him. Indiana Jones thinks it’s impossible to find the Ark.

Stage 4 – Meeting with the Mentor Our hero meets someone who is well versed in the tools of the new world, who can guide or train our hero at the start of his journey into the unknown. Think that scene where James Bond meets Q, the person who gives him all those great weapons, or when Hagrid tells Harry Potter who his parents were.

Stage 5 – Crossing the Threshold Finally our hero is ready and can plunge headlong into the story and the world before him, one with different rules and values than his own. Frodo leaves the Shire, Luke Skywalker leaves Tatooine, Alice goes down the rabbit hole, Sherlock Holmes steps out onto the streets to solve a crime

Stage 6 – Tests, Allies and Enemies Our hero is tested, finds new friends, and finds new foes. Story is struggle – in his tests these cases our heroes find out who is friend and who is not. And we, the audience, learn what kind of skills and values our hero really has.

Stage 7 – Approach The hero and his allies prepare for the major challenge in this new world – to get the thing he came for. Usually this is physically a cave or enclosed space that the hero approaches. Dorothy and her friends finally get inside Oz.

Stage 8 – The Ordeal This is the darkest moment for our hero, where we, the audience, fear for his life and root for his success. Our hero enters battle and confronts death, maybe even dies. Out of the moment of death his reborn with greater strength.

Stage 9 – The Reward The hero gets the thing he wanted. Campbell called it ‘the elixir’, others call it ‘the sword’, but it is something that could be taken back with the hero. There is celebration, but still the risk of losing what he has won.

Stage 10 – The Road Back Now that he has what he came for our hero has to fight his way back. He is usually chased by those that protected the thing he came for.

Stage 11 – The Resurrection The ultimate fight as our hero breaks out of the special world. The hero returns home, bringing with him the treasure that can change his ordinary world.

Stage 12 – New Life Back to the same old life as stage 1. Sherlock Holmes goes back to 221b Baker Street, Frodo is back in the Shire, Dorothy is back in Kansas. But things are different. Life is never the same when you’re a hero.

It’s easy to apply this structure to action movies, as any good action movie made now uses this as it’s template. Any Role Playing video game, like the Final Fantasy series, also relies heavily on this theory.
New sensation the Hunger Games blatantly follows it. And so does famous anime like ‘One Piece’. Each ‘Voyage’ of ‘One Piece’ puts Monkey D Luffy through the Hero’s Journey.

Conclusion

I hope you’ll leave here tonight and start to see the Journey in books and movies.

But, it’s not just fiction that follows the Hero’s Journey. It is also in our own lives. We may not slay dragons or enter a magical world, but I bet that each of us needs to learn, overcome obstacles and return with a treasure that will make our lives better.

Joseph Campbell said

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

Maybe this room is your cave, and speaking is your fear. But if you conquer it, you’re a kind of hero, don’t you think?

I stink: Why I failed at NaNoWriMo – and why I am ok with that

I tried, or I think I did. But I failed. NaNoWriMo has come and gone and I got 1/4 of the way to the finish line – which by anyone’s measuring is pretty dismal!

The problem was this – 1/4 of the way into November I went to the place where a chunk of my novel was to be set – the Tsunami devastated region of Tohoku, Japan. It was a very moving experience. But it also made me realise that what I was writing was pale in comparison and did not do justice to the emotions that I felt simply walking amongst the rubble of thousands of homes.

It was at that point a lot of things came to me. Many I won’t share on here, yet, but one was a thunderbolt:

Be true to yourself.

I knew what I was writing was not what I wanted to read. I was writing for some invisible audience, not for myself. It made me scrap the idea and reevaluate.

I have to relate one thing that happened to me while in that region.

Standing in front of the Kadonowaki Elementary School in Ishinomaki I met an old man who lived up the hill. This school looks completely destroyed, though it did not suffer the same fate as the Okawa Elementary School not too far away. For those of you who don’t know, this school lost 75% of it’s student population and 10 of it’s 13 teachers. I asked the old man in Kadonowaki – in my simplistic, broken, Japanese – if he lived here. He pointed up the hill, to where the houses were untouched by the devastation. I nodded my head and looked for the words. What he must have seen that day and in the days to come would have been devastating to most of us.

He simply shook his head and said ‘difficult time’.

He then looked up the rather steep path to where his house was and said ‘lunchtime. thanks for coming to Japan’.

I guess you can’t dwell too much on the past. But you have to live, and not squander the gift of time.

Or, he wanted to go have lunch.

Either way, I am here to hold my hands up and admit defeat to the gods of NaNoWriMo – but also to thank them. If not for this challenge I never would have gone to Tohoku. It has changed me. And for that I am grateful.

One of my photos of Kadonowaki Elementary School in Ishinomaki, Japan. Totally devastated by the tsunami.

Forget Halloween – here comes NaNoWriMo!

For thousands of people tonight is not about the terror of Halloween… it is about the terror that tomorrow NaNoWriMo starts.

For those of you too lazy to click the link, let me tell you a little about NaNoWriMo. This bizarre words stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’. The national is not really applicable as it is real InaNoWriMo (international!). Around the world, right now, thousands of writers and would-be writers are coming to the realization that tomorrow they have to start writing a book and they are not in the slightest prepared. (And if you think you are, you aren’t!)

This is my second stab at this insanity. A couple of years ago I attempted the feat – to ‘complete’ a 50,000 word novel in a month – and failed. Life got in the way and I let me project slide beyond the state where it could be revived and the target hit.

Will this year be different? Who knows! I can already see problems: on the 8th I am flying to Japan. But, a 12 hour flight is a good chance to get some writing done, right? And while I am in Japan I am making a brief side trip up to the disaster zone, as my novel has a chunk of it set there… maybe.

So, forget about the ghosts and goblins ringing your doorbell tonight. Tomorrow you will have some real demons to wrestle with!

Good luck, fellow NaNoWriMo-ers. And, to the partners and friends of this insane group of people, please, give them a chance! This is a hard enough task without someone stomping on your dreams.

See you in a month.