Friday, 31 August 2012


Hello Friends.

In the past few weeks, I've been fortunate to spend lots of time really connecting with young people. Like really young. I took in the Olympic Closing Ceremonies with Luka (9 mos.), flew from Saskatoon to to Edmonton beside Nate (10 mos.), went swimmin' with Nevaeh (7 yrs) and Naima (3 yrs), took a shopping trip with Finn (2 yrs), and spent last night watching movies and gossiping with Cole (2 yrs) and Carson (9 mos.), and all of their wonderful moms and dads. The thing I couldn't help but notice is that one of the traits we commonly ascribe to babies or young children, was absent in all these little guys. I was prepared to deal with it before paying social calls on all of these babies, and yet it was wholly absent, and it made me wonder why I continue to tolerate this behaviour in adults. Well, no more. Starting now.

Dream: No more sulking, pouting or whining from anyone, even and especially, me.

Goal: Achievable. I'm not saying youngsters don't get upset, of course they do. So too should adults. But when a baby gets upset, they might kick and scream, or rant and rave, or throw a raucous tantrum, but sooner or later, they are completely over it. One notices that sometimes even before the tears have dried on a baby's face, they've spotted a butterfly or a firetruck, giggled at a funny face, or scooted off in pursuit of something shiny. Little ones are certainly fragile in the physical sense, but have the strong, flexible emotions to live completely in the now. "One of my carrots fell to the floor, I'm completely devastated. I don't see how I can continue any longer. I may as well just pack my bags and--oh my god, another carrot! You are a jewel of a Mummy! Look at this carrot I'm enjoying!"

Why then, as adults, do we pout for hours, sulk for days, hold grudges for years? What's the point? Are we such delicate flowers, our feelings so precious and pliable that any perceived slight can turn our world upside down? We can walk and talk and think and reason, but please don't say the wrong thing or else we'll fall to pieces? Come on.

Plan: Identify those situations that potentially create a pouty, whiny, sulky James and get over it.

Let me clarify that I in no way mean to impugn or discredit people facing legitimate challenges and/or suffering with depression. I have no idea what that is like, but I'm smart enough to know that I haven't faced any insurmountable emotional burdens myself, and that depression is a whole other ballgame. I wouldn't wish clinical depression and it's associated maladies on anyone, but I certainly know and love people who faces such illnesses every day with dignity and determination. This is not an indictment of you. This is to encourage your healthy brothers and sisters to grow a pair, to see the big picture, to not get excited over the small stuff.

I have become far less of a pouter/sulker since meeting Dr. Jon. We've taken the maxim "Never go to bed angry" and extrapolated it to mean, "Never leave room peeved." With a mother and eldest brother who are both psychiatric nurses, the Doctor comes from a family who puts it out in the open, sorts out the sore spots, says what they mean, means what they say, and passes the rolls around the dinner table every night. Jon puts it out there, and has no tolerance for emotional manipulation or the bevy of bullshit I have in my arsenal. If he senses I'm discontent in any way (and he gets it right every time) he says, "What's bugging out? What's the problem? Why are you upset? Why? Why? Out with it. Tell me. Let's sort it out." and the like until I explode, "WHY do you leave one piece of paper on the toilet paper roll? Who EVER needs just one?" or whatever the issue is. My example argument is trite, but we've gone over the relationship minefields (money, sex, work, nose hair) in the exact same manner. He doesn't let me stew, and thank god. He doesn't let me avoid confrontation either, which has certainly been my m.o. since forever. I feel like the epitaph on my family plot might read, "Here Lies The Ostime Family. Let's Change the Subject." This is not to say we never get upset. If I discover I'm short one ingredient while cooking dinner, or if Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo didn't record on the PVR, or if his computer freezes up mid-project, we are an intolerable two. We yell and curse and rage but eventually, we get the fuck over ourselves.

Knowing these things, when I see other couples that employ sulking and pouting, it really cooks my noodle. I was once on the subway near a young couple where the woman was having a full on sulk. Sighing, shaking her head, and not answering her long-suffering mate. "What's wrong, babe? What'd I do? Are you pissed?" and she kept denying it and denying it and then finally she turned to him and snapped, "I just need you to know when I'm hungry!" I swear to you. I'd accuse her of being infantile, but as I've said, I don't even see infants like that. Another time, I was out for dinner with some couples, and one man was giving his companion major attitude. From what I could surmise, they had been shopping earlier in the day, and the man either didn't have a credit card or it was maxed out or something, and he was mad that his girlfriend wouldn't front him the money to buy a video game. He was sulky all night and kept saying things like, "I get paid on Friday, you know! This Friday!" In front of all of us! It was just gross.

I compare these situations to another time when I showed up on the doorstep of a dear couple I know to spend the weekend. They had just figured out, the day of my arrival, that somebody had been putting nails behind the wheels of their parked cars in the driveway. They had had a few flat tires in the past, but hadn't connected the dots until that day, when the gal's tire had deflated just feet from the driveway and they found the offending spike. She had a job interview the next morning and had just found out the car couldn't be fixed in time. Was on the phone with the car people as I ding-donged and stood there with my suitcase. In spite of these terrible circumstances, zero pouting and sulking. Or rather, if sulking/pouting did occur, I never saw it. They were gracious hosts, I had an amazing, hilarious time, and that's just the name of their tune.

I really have to quit my bitching. Bitching and kvetching are just the tarted-up cousins of whining, and doesn't give any better impression than the sulkster does. I love a good bitchfest, but I've noticed that bitching begets bitching, it doesn't truly make anything better in the long term. Have you ever noticed that the quickest way to find common ground with an acquaintance is to complain about a situation you have in common? I might say to a new co-worker, "Just so we're on the same page, Sally is a total beast, right?" and they'll go, "Oh I know!" and we're off to the races. But as I say, I've got to curb that impulse. When someone complains about their lives to me and I can see their situation objectively, I never feel that connection through kvetching. If they say, "I work in this office, and I work with this woman, and she's always so bleeeerg", I think to myself, "Oh stop it, you're getting paid, aren't you? No one's holding a gun to your head." So why do I think it's cute when I do it? It's not. I shouldn't.

It comes down to how one chooses to see the world, I guess. Babies get to discover the world every day and it's pretty rad. There's always a new experience, new touch, new taste. Every moment has the potential to be bigger and better than the last. Babies don't sulk when things don't go their way because babies don't know what way things are supposed to go. They're just catching a wave, enjoying a flight, or chonkin' on a carrot. They take the world as it comes, tiny bodies be damned. They're some small stuff that's worth getting excited about.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The September Issue...

This entry of Big City James is brought to you by Sparkle. Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston star in this surefire summer hit from Sony Pictures Entertainment. Is Whitney Houston dead? Not in Sparkle! Only in theatres.

Hello Friends.

Forgive me my terribly long absence. The past two weeks have seen me packing bags and unpacking bags, loading cars and unloading cars, saying hello to friends and saying goodbye to friends. Now I am in a new Big City with new horizons to explore and expectations to meet and find that the most pressing crop of Dreams (find a job, make new friends, master the deceptively difficult Edmonton dialect) to be at best, a little daunting to consider, and at worst, a little tedious to read. But that doesn't mean this week's Big City James shouldn't be our biggest, boldest, most circulated entry ever.

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Dream: Create a Big City James September Issue.

Goal: Achievable. Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry used to be that any monthly publication would see it's highest sales at Christmas. While that's surely still true of gift catalogues and reindeer porn, such figures have been upset in recent years with the rise of the September issue. As trends often do, this one began with Vogue magazine. I once knew a fey but stylish man who spent a good third of his time and income shopping for little outfits and he said, "If you care at all about the clothes on your back, you need to know only two things. Your measurements, and Vogue's September issue." Instead of pushing him in front of a moving car for so simperingly justifying the gay male stereotype, I heed his advice and every year since, buy September's Vogue when it hits newsstands. Not for my own little outfits, you understand, but just to pore over the excess, the style, the pageantry of it all. And I am not alone. Circulation is so high for Vogue's September issue that a documentary film was made about its production, its estimated ad revenue hovers around $100 million, and other publications follow suit. Victoria Beckham covers Glamour this month, Katy Perry does Elle, Kate Middleton has this month's Vanity Fair, Lady Gaga landed this ridonkulous Vogue spread, even Prancer gets this month's Reindeer Porn Digest. So why can't I get in on the action with my little blog?

Get in on the action for your September dinners with avocado, the vegetable that tastes like nothing! Add a negligible amount to a soup, a pinch of zilch to your casserole, weird green stuff for your sandwiches, with avocado. "Mother, can we please have avocado?" no children will ask. Look for it in the blandest part of your grocery store.

Plan: Take what I know about September issues and apply the same features to my blog. Features like:

Advertisements. This month's Vogue is over 900 hundred pages and more than half of them are ads. While I have been ad-free up until now, the keen-eyed reader will notice a few subtle endorsements throughout this entry.

An interview with a hot young star. If I had my druthers and could interview whomever I liked, I might put the Twilight stars on the cover, mopey Kristen Stewart and sickly Robert Pattinson, but inside I'd profile two far more interesting co-stars. I haven't seen the Twilight movies, but the imdb entries for them reveal two familiar names to me that I want to know more about: Bronson Pelletier and Nikki Reed. I wrote a brief piece that mentioned Bronson Pelletier for this book, but always felt like a bit of a faker, having written about him but not contacting him directly. I'd still like to know how he forged a path from the Askinootow First Nation to the biggest movie franchise in the world. Were there opportunities afforded his small Plains Cree home that helped him? Or his journey solely the product of his own tenacity and talent? Likely some combination of the two paved his road to success, but how does he feel representing a small, heretofore largely-unknown community and culture via the pop culture juggernaut known as Twilight?

Then in turn I might ask Nikki Reed how she feels about teenage girls. Reed's first film is Thirteen, an especially wrenching movie about a girl who, at thirteen, begins to experiment with drugs, sexuality, and self-harm when she is introduced to another thirteen year-old who begins to exert her bad influence. Reed doesn't play the protagonist, but rather the "bad" thirteen year old who shoplifts, cuts herself, and tries to seduce men. What's interesting is that Reed herself wrote the film, and did so when she herself was thirteen. She allegedly based the film on her own experiences which were those of the film's protagonist, not the bad girl she ended up playing. Do you follow? She writes a movie, which against all odds get read by the right person, greenlit by the right studio, casts Holly Hunter as the concerned Mom, then casts Reed as the bad influence that was her own undoing, and Evan Rachel Wood as the main character. I wonder what the experience must have been like for her, especially as that is the only writing credit she has to her name. She has since appeared as an actress in typical teen fare, like The O.C. and now, Twilight, a franchise bankrolled almost exclusively by teenage girls. I wonder what she thinks about teenage girls, whether she knows something we don't, and whether she'd ever go back to being a teenager herself, or if the price was too high.

No price is too high at Anthropologie. Crummy knick-knacks? $80! Old watering can? $240! Peasant top? If you have to ask you can't afford it! Why are our prices so high? Fuck you, that's why! Ha ha ha! Anthropolgie! Suck our dicks!

A report on the latest trends in fashion. I don't know if it's a thing yet, but I have high hopes for a men's onesie or, if you prefer, a Mansie. A Mansie would be a trendy long t-shirt that, when it hits the crotch, changes fabric colour and texture to look like high-end underwear. Calvin Klein briefs, maybe, or Diesel boxers. Anway, the boxer material extends below your danglies, then tucks underneath the crotch and buttons somewhere in the ass area, with the back of the shirt. Like a onesie! You'd wear this with a pair of jeans that covers the bottom part (except maybe the underwear logo if you're materialistic like that). The advantage to this seemingly uncomfortable design is this: no matter how you bend or stretch in the Mansie, unlike a regular t-shirt, this will never ride up your sides or lower-back because it simply can't! It's affixed beneath your danglies! No longer will men fear leaning forward to get the last chip off the floor and exposing rolls of back fat. Leave your wobbly, white side rolls where they belong, beneath your shirt. I figure my eating habits suggest the self-control of a baby, so why not dress like one? Someone make this, I'll buy it.

Finally, I suppose I'd have to feature something about what to expect for Fall 2012. I have no idea. But I do know the friends I have here, the people I've met, and the guy I now live with 24/7 have made this transition pretty great. I may not have a job yet, or any new little outfits, but I hope to be a bigger and bolder Big City James this September and all year round. The party's just getting started, time to circulate.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

You Asked For It...

Hello Friends.

Perhaps I should consider a name change for this blog. When I began writing Big City James, I intended it as a sort of weekly letter home to my friends and family in Saskatchewan. This was nearly three years ago, as I adjusted to life in Toronto. From the beginning, however, this blog was less to do with differences between a big and small city, but rather about my Dreams, both large and small in scope. As the doctor and I pack three years of pants and books in our little blue car (our garbage second-hand furniture is garbage), I'm becoming reflective.

I'm not the biggest fan of Oprah's homespun wisdom, but the fact that she carries Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bags on her network means I'm subjected to her faux-inspirational platitudes before a commercial break. Sidebar: Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bags is this show about these two ladies who aren't professional chefs but they are best friends and have a witty rapport. They buy a popular cookbook at a store and try to make the recipes for a legit chef who comes over and says, "Well this isn't very good." It's the best show. Anyway, one of Oprah's favourite interstitial bits is a title card that reads, "You get in life what you have the courage to ask for." Though my knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss such a philosophy as self-centred and greedy, what if it's true? What if, by not articulating my real desires, I'm depriving myself of even the chance of getting them? Maybe the Fates or God or whomever reads blogs sometimes and just by putting these desires out into the universe, I'm taking the first step to having them fulfilled.

Dream: Ask for what I really want.

Goal: Achievable. What else do I do every Thursday if not that? But my Dreams tend to be narrow-in-scope, tongue-in-cheek, and not entirely honest. There's something boring, naked, and self-interested about using a public forum to say, "BUT WHAT ABOUT MY NEEDS?" especially when your basic needs (food, water, internet) are consistently met. But saying goodbye to Ontario friends and family this week has me sentimental, emotional, and yes, a little needy, so forgive me, but here goes.

Plan: Find out what, "You get in life what you have the courage to ask for" means for me.

So what would I ask for, had I the courage? Well, I'd like to write. If I'm allowed to be specific, I'd like to write a funny tv show where the people on the show are friends and really love each other (like my friends in real life), but still say funny things and get in zany situations. And if I really had my druthers (incidentally, who da fuck took my druthers in the first place?), I'd put my theatre training to good use and give myself a small part on that show. The guy with breathing problems, maybe, or the guy who can't dance. A second or third banana that may not have a rich interior life, but always gets a laugh. But if I have to be vague, I just want to write, and make enough money at it not to obsess over my bank account every day.

I want to keep the friends and family I have, but just keep adding more. Kind of like a love snowball, where the more you pack in there, the bigger it grows. I'd like to keep the friends I have now, but add more young dads, maybe, or throw in another vegan. I'd like to know a mortician and a bartender who has no aspirations beyond being a bartender. I'd like more nieces and nephews, please, who draw crayoned pictures of my likeness, with long yellow lines for the hair. I'd like a sister-in-law whose gaze I could silently meet across the table at holiday dinners and communicate, "You're hearing this too, right? You realize how much crazy is around this table right now."

I'd like a strong body that continues to like long walks and good food. I'll cut down on the high-fat foods if it means keeping my sturdy gait and off-rhythm dance moves for a few extra decades. I'd want a less sibilant 's' just for when I'm answering the phone. A telemarketer asked if I had time for a survey the other day and I said, "Thorry, I'm in thort of a hurry..." like Drew Barrymore in ET, and he launched right into his pitch anyhow. I'd like to keep all of my hair, but if that's asking too much, I'd like to at least have a decently-shaped head under all this hair so when I start to lose it, I can cut it really short and still look okay.

I'd like to keep Dr. Jon around and for him to be as happy as I've always known him to be, but especially this past year. He's really at his dream job making unbelievable strides. He has enough self-doubt to keep him humble and curious, which is great as I couldn't bear to eat dinner every night with an asshole. No matter how long I live, I'd like for him to live just one more day, so I don't have to live in a world where that guy is dead.

I want more books and authors like the ones I've already discovered. There's nothing that changes my outlook so frequently and profoundly as books. The cliche we forcefeed children all the time is true, you really can be transported through reading. I'll read a book of such a particular style that I'll begin to believe that my life plays out in just that way. That I may as well live in Carl Hiaassen's Miami, Anne Tyler's Baltimore, Fannie Flagg's deep south, Mark Haddon's England, because I get so deeply ensconced in their worlds. I'm in the middle of a book right now called In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It is so gripping and addictive that I can barely pack the rest of my books into the boxes, tubs, and suitcases set aside just for literature as we head out on our big move.

I want that first sip of morning coffee to always be so satisfying.

I'd like a more flexible mind. I admire someone with the courage of her convictions, but I would also hope that I have a mind smart enough to be changed. This is not to say I want to be talked into becoming a Methodist or Conservative, but I'd like to know more about groups I don't belong to, and not get defensively pissy along the way.

I want to consume less porn and more art.

I want to stop overcooking eggs, chicken, and pasta.

I used to watch this show Boston Legal, where James Spader played a young hotshot lawyer, and William Shatner was a legendary attorney who appears to be slipping in his advanced age. Sometime in the first season, Shatner explains to Spader what keeps him in the courtroom past retirement age. "We're all desperate to be relevant" he says. Like Oprah's, "You get in life what you have the courage to ask for", "We're all desperate to be relevant" sticks with me to this day, because I find it to be true. Deep in my heart of hearts and gutsiest of guts, I want to be relevant in my life and the lives of others. I want to write things that change minds, I want my thoughts to be worth more than the paper they're written on. In other words, I want to matter. Is this an ego thing? Or does everyone want that? If everyone wants to matter to everyone else, can that possibly happen?

Forgive the rambling here, but I promised I wouldn't go back and edit this one. I wouldn't return to paragraphs and insert jokes in an attempt to lighten the content, lessen the impact. This is what I want and what I currently have the courage to ask for. And I also know how lucky I am to have what I have. So my Dreams will follow me from big city to smaller, and I'll continue to set Goals for myself and see what comes to pass. Sounds like a Plan.