Thursday, 29 August 2013

An Open Letter to Teenagers...

Hello Friends.

I don't know much about marketing, beyond the fact that cartoon bear families need toilet paper all the goddamn time. But I do something about the idea of demographics. Demographics indicate how products, services, entertainment, hell lifestyles, are marketed. Advertisers believe that tweens, teenagers, and young adults are the biggest demographic worth marketing towards because they have the most disposable income. Not the most as in highest income, but the most disposable--meaning they typically don't have the same shelter/food/family expenses that their parents do and are more likely to shell out for non-essentials like movie tickets, iTunes downloads, and an caffeine drink made of Monsters. Consequently, the old white dudes who run advertising companies (I'm sure there are a few young non-white non-dudes in the mix, but let's be real) think teens are the cash cows worth milking and the pop culture that is produced is, to some degree, catered to that audience.

As I see it, problems arise because that audience (youth, teenagers, and young adults) is misunderstood, underestimated, and ultimately short-changed by a culture that supposedly reflects them. Not only that, but adults like me who haven't been teenagers in ten years or more consume this junk just as readily, but we aren't the ones that suffer. My contemporaries and I can dismiss Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus' MTV performance as laughably derivative, or shockingly racist, or ludicrously camp. But how many teenagers saw those three ear piercing minutes as legitimately provocative, sexually liberating, or even aspirational?

Do I insult the intelligence of teenagers now, as I write this, for thinking that they're impressionable while I'm impervious? I know that's not true. I don't care about One Direction, for instance, but that guy Miguel? Jumpin' pumpkins! I'm buying what that guy's selling. I saw him on Saturday Night Live a few months ago and got so excited that Jon paused the TV and insisted that I "relax a little bit." But I was a teen myself once, and while I mostly remember putting off homework and getting erections, there are things about supposed "teenage culture" that I knew then were wholly inaccurate. I'd like to address those issues now.

Dream: Speak to the teens.

Goal: Unachievable. I am occasionally really fortunate to do projects with young people. I used to get acting gigs that were for and with children and I write plays for high school kids that they do in festivals sometimes. I have friends who do this far more successfully than I do and I think it's because there's a fundamental element to their work that speaks directly to teenagers. I can give teens funny lines to say, and work with children without being a terror or accidentally stepping on their little feet, but in terms of connecting with them, I always feel a bit like Joey Nickels. However, maybe some enterprising teenager will stumble upon this entry (for the sake of keyword search results: skateboarding, planking, Selena Gomez, #YOLO, Proactiv, Monster Energy) and listen to what I have to say.

Plan: Write an open letter.

Dear Teenagers,

Young teens, take a look at your life, you're a lot like I was. No, that's stupid, let's start again. Hi. Thanks for reading. I know it's obnoxious when people presume they know anything about you, and that because you fall within a certain age bracket, assumptions can be made about your life, your problems, your dreams. I'm going to try not to do that here.

What I want to talk about is what we, the rest of the world, foist upon you. About how we sentimentalize the time in our lives that you're currently experiencing, and how we always, always get it wrong. About how, even though I know you're smarter, more experienced, just better than I think you are, I still worry.

First thing: sex. You know sex is way different IRL than you've seen it portrayed right? And you know that sex is amazing and fantastic and feels great, except for when it's not any of those things? Here's what you've probably heard about sex already, but could use reiterating: the sexiest thing in the world is explicit, uncensored, vocal consent. I'm not saying teenagers are a bunch of perpetrators and victims, abusers and abused. What I'm saying is that Blurred Lines is bullshit. Have some of, all, or none of the sexual activity that you want, but do it on your terms. Guys, you know what's even hotter than touching a girl's body? Getting express permission to do it. I'm serious. Picture the girl you have a crush on, then picture her saying, "(Name), hold me closer." Goddamn! Right? Isn't that way more appealing than "accidentally" grazing someone's breast in the hallway? Also, it falls to you to be just as transparent with the ladies. Be clear about your desires and your limits. Too embarrassed to talk it out beforehand? You probably shouldn't be doing it. And girls, I know you must be so sick of hearing that girls aren't or shouldn't be interested in sex, but that doesn't mean you have to go beyond your own comfort level just to prove a point. It's safe to assume that a lot of teenagers are horny, that doesn't mean y'all should be screwing each other if you're not ready for it. Finally, everybody lies about their sex lives to other people, from their teenage years to their golden years, so there's no point in comparing yourself to anyone else in that department. Set your own standards and make your own choices and for God's sake, don't send each other pictures of your junk.

Secondly, music. Movies. Television. Books. I'm sorry so much of it is garbage, but please know that it is garbage. Comic book movies and Tosh.0 and Justin Bieber is popcorn. There's nothing wrong with popcorn, it hits the spot sometimes, but there are gourmet meals of entertainment just waiting for your consumption. I'm not saying you should dispose of the disposable, but maybe start taking the time to find what really moves you. I remember seeing a Woody Allen movie as a teenager and thinking, "All these people do is talk to each other and walk around! Everyone just talked for two hours! Nothing happened!" but it was FASCINATING to me. I didn't know movies could be that. Look, you're on the computer all ready, just do a little bit of digging and find that thing that pings in your brain.

Bullying. I really want to know the truth of the matter here, teens. I don't think we're getting the whole picture of what it means to bully and to be bullied. Is it as bad as they say? Is it worse? I don't buy the black and white way the issue is so often portrayed. That school is full of vile popular kids and victimized wallflowers. It can't be that simple. If I woke up in a reverse-Tom-Hanks-in-Big scenario tomorrow, suddenly in the body of a teenager, the first thing I would do is go to a high school and really look for bullying. I'm not saying I never saw kids pick on other kids when I was a teenager, but if instances of bullying happened like I read in newspapers now, instances of physical and psychological torment, insidious threats and name-calling, I guess I was just too stupid to realize it. Educate us, teenagers. We really want to know what the deal is because we want to help.

Friends. If you're in high school, a lot of people are going to tell you that these are the best years of your life. That was not my experience. But I do know I made friends in those years that changed how I saw the world. The cool thing about discovering yourself as a teenager is that you get to discover and appreciate other people in turn. Same goes for family. Let them in as much as you can, and you'll realize the people that love you really are well-intentioned, and can really help you when you need them, and you will.

Have you ever heard the idea that babies and the very old know special things about the world that the rest of us don't? Babies have just emerged from the spirit world, we'll call it, and the very old are about to re-enter it, and so they are blessed with a kind of innate knowledge that the rest of us aren't privy to? I really think there's a similar phenomenon with you teenagers. For all the hormones and drama, you have fierce emotion and genuine feeling that the rest of us too easily dismiss. For all your forgotten homework, there's a powerful intelligence that flies out the window somewhere in our twenties. Maybe instead of projecting our fantasies of youth onto you guys, watching crap like the MTV Awards and making proclamations about a morally corrupt generation, and worrying about the kind of world you will inherit, we should be looking to you, the teenagers, for help. It's vitally important that we understand you if we're ever going to understand ourselves.

Your friend,

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Fringe Benefits...

Hello Friends.

What a week! The Fringe Festival is in town! I hadn't realized before just how big a deal the Fringe Festival is to Edmontonians, but it is quite the to-do. I had hoped to score a sweet press pass, watch a bunch of theatre, and cover the shows for any of the weekly culture magazines here in the city, but they all said no. By the by, go to hell, weekly culture magazines. Ooh, is a new grilled cheese restaurant opening up in a recently gentrified area? Dink my donks, you pissweasels! (I'm trying not to swear so much). Instead, I took it upon myself during this slow workweek, to see as many shows as possible. What follows are my findings.

Dream: Write the definitive guide to the Edmonton Fringe Festival.

Goal: Achievable. Okay, so I didn't see all of the shows, but I saw quite a few! Like more than five. More than two for sure. Definitely more than none, I think. And I'm not just a schlub in the tub, you guys! I have a theatre degree so I know what I'm talking about (also I know where the fitting rooms are at the clothing store where I work, but let's not judge my previous aspiration based on my current profession, okayzees?). So I'm basically the perfect person to tell you how to spend your hard-earned Fringin' money.

Plan: List all the shows I might have seen with a brief synopsis of what they may have been about.

AMANDA'S PIANO - Foul Language, Children Smoking.- Amanda's life in war-torn Bosnia is hilarious, but everything changes when a piano drops from the sky into her living room, killing her stepfather

THAT'S MY DOG - Dog Nudity, Brief Hijinks.- A musical retrospective of the work of Joan Didion.

DAISY DOODLE DARKNESS -Salmon is smoked onstage. Pregnancy.- A woman's life from the ages of 9 to 90 as she trains to be a dancer, breaks her leg, takes a desk job, goes to Carlton Cards and is like, "$5.99 for a card? That's ridiculous! I don't even care about the people getting married. Fuck this."

MISS HOPPER REGRETS - An ageing drag queen is an insufferable pain in the ass (164 minutes, no intermission)

CHRISTMAS WITH THE STAFF OF BURKE & SHEFFIELD INVESTMENTS - A very "inside baseball" revue where popular holiday favourites are reworded in reference to the staff of Burke & Sheffield Investments. "Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la la la la la. But not Holly in HR, she's on maternity, Fa la la la la la la la." 0/5 stars.

MOMBUTT: A SKETCH COMEDY BONANZA! -Continual Cringing. Gunplay- The members of Mombutt reunite for a look back at their "finest" work.

IT'S A GLUE GUN - A group of children encounter a strange object in an abandoned treehouse and, in their quest to identify their treasure, have the best summer of their lives. Spoiler: It's a glue gun.

ONLY OATES -Watch out boy, she'll chew you up- Hall & Oates reunite, but Hall couldn't make it.

MY PARENTS ARE CRAZY! -Just the worst fucking one man show you ever saw in your life.

All right, so maybe I didn't have a full list of the plays at press time, but I think this is pretty accurate. The truth is, I have nothing of substance to write this week because I've been so inspired/intimidated by the writing of other people. What's really neat about watching Fringe plays is the minimalism. Not to take away from gargantuan stage shows like Miss Saigon or Precious the Musical Based on the Film Precious Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, but something in those touring big budget theatre pieces feels really safe. It's almost as if you're watching a movie for all the spontaneity that is discouraged. But the unique, ephemeral quality of a small play, the idea that something was created from nothing and now we are watching it unfold, that's pretty neat. I think any artistic expression with that much authenticity is worth your money, so the next time a Fringe Festival rolls into your town, plonk down some cash, take your seat, wait for the lights to go down, and experience some magic.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Don't Just Stand There...

Hello Friends.

By now, we've all seen those terrible pictures coming out of Russia. My Facebook wall is littered with posts about Russia's terrible LGBT policies, and pictures of bloody citizens with captions like, "THIS HAS TO STOP!" or "Something must be done NOW!"

Last year, a heartbreaking video made the rounds about Joseph Kony, the Ugandan dictator with an army of child soldiers. People posted the video, people watched the video, people said, "Unbelievable! So moving! Just watch this!"

News from Attawipiskat had pictures of malnourished children living in overcrowded, poorly insulated sheds. Journalists who manage to sneak into North Korea bring back haunting portraits of starvation and torture. Something's always up in the Sudan and it's never fun.

Lumping Russia in with Joseph Kony seems unfair because #KONY2012 became a movement, then a meme when the organizer responsible stripped to his underwear and was filmed ranting and raving on a street corner. But are gays being persecuted in Russia any better or worse than children enslaved and killed in Uganda? Just because Attawipiskat is no longer in the news cycle, are we to assume everyone there is suddenly fed and well-cared for?

I know creating awareness is important, but I have to constantly remind myself that saying something is not the same as doing something. Signing a petition on the internet for a cause across the world does less to help one's fellow man than showing up at the soup kitchen in your town brandishing a ladle.

Let me put it another way. I have a relative who used to be a nurse (I say "used to be", but this relative is not dead, just in another stream of the healthcare profession that doesn't deal with patients directly). As a nurse, this relative interacted daily with the sick, the crazy, the very old, and the dying in a meaningful, practical, matter-of-fact way. Patients were bathed, fed, clothed, medicated, and in many cases, saved. Another relative works in a shelter for abused women, finding them work, food, housing, protection, dealing with the complexities of their lives on a case by case, woman by woman basis. A dear friend lives and works in fucking Peru, right in their poorest communities, teaching the economically disadvantaged about options to improve and sustain their lives in practical, tangible ways. This is not bleeding heart volunteerism, these are careers that my relatives and friend have (all women, by the way, which surely says something significant) and helping people is simply part of their job.

I, meanwhile, would be a mess in all of the above situations. I was volunteering a few weeks ago at a Kids With Cancer relay race fundraiser along with some coworkers. It was our job to pick up garbage, and we laughed and joked with each other while lazily clearing the grounds. Waiting in line for my free pizza lunch, I saw what looked like an entire family each wearing the same sweatshirt. A white knit with the ironed on picture of a little bald kid and text that read "Team Aiden". Older folks, people I assumed to be Grandma and Grandpa, had ballcaps that said "Team Aiden" little cousins sported buttons that read, "Team Aiden." Then, running up alongside them, I saw a little bald kid who could have only been Aiden. Instead of cheering like other participants were (this was a relay race, after all), I made some sound between a cough and a yelp, ran to a nearby portajohn, and sobbed as quietly and discreetly as possible until I could clean myself up and get back in line for pizza. I tell you this not to appear virtuous, but to point out that my fragility in this situation helped no one. I couldn't pick up my garbage, nor could I even cheer on a kid with cancer at a Kids With Cancer fundraiser.

The thing is, you don't deserve a fucking medal if you feel things more deeply than other people. Crying over a bald kid or posting pictures of injured Russians does less to help people in pain than working in a battered women's shelter or teaching Peruvians how to survive. I say again, saying something is not the same as doing something, so it's time to get off my goddamn high horse and do some stuff.

Dream: Do things to help people.

Goal: Achievable, with caveats. We post pictures, we link to articles, we cry "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!" on Facebook and Twitter in the name of equality, but if we truly believe in equality, doesn't it make more sense to help the suffering members of your own community, where you have a greater chance of affecting real, tangible change? I think so.

I feel terrible for gays in Russia, for instance, but I have yet to hear exactly what to do in order to help them. Not buying Russian vodka, as Dan Savage suggests, might be a short-sighted non-solution to a complex problem. Most "Russian" vodkas are actually made in countries like Latvia and Luxembourg and have small to negligible effects on Russia's economy, and if we actually wanted to put the screws to Putin, we'd be better off not relying on Russia's oil industry, upon which half of Europe and all of the US is dependant and so good luck turning that around before the Olympic Games. Plus, bad as things are in Russia, things are worse for gays in New Guinea, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, Syria, and at least fifty other countries. And it's worth pointing out that one can hide one's sexuality when in imminent danger, but if you're a woman or of a different race in countries where that is an issue, you've nowhere to hide and you deal with that danger every day. But providing aid to those in trouble shouldn't be about gender vs. race, gays vs. straights or vodka over oil. If we're serious about helping our fellow man (and we should be), let's take the trope as a truism and realize that charity begins at home.

Plan: Take real action, big or small, to affect real change right where I live. Do things like...

Volunteer. Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones. I never used to volunteer anywhere and that was mostly the result of laziness combined with shift work. I couldn't commit to Tuesday nights manning the gift shop at a hospital, for example, because that would mean losing a potential shift every Tuesday night. But now I work for a cold, heartless corporation that encourages volunteerism in its staff members. Even if this is just a PR move, I don't care. It means that random volunteer opportunities get posted in the breakroom, one-off chances to help in a soup kitchen, or pick up garbage at a relay race and cry, but by signing up for those things, you get that day free on your work schedule and pick up another shift at another time. In other words, volunteering through work rather than outside of work means that scheduling my life isn't a logistical nightmare. It's worth checking to see if your workplace has some kind of volunteer incentive program. Often there's a chance to volunteer for events rather than a consistent shift. Three hours selling 50/50 tickets at a steak night feels better than three hours wringing your hands about a depressing statistic from the comfort of your own home.

Consider your dollar. I'm a bit conflicted about handing over a buck to the panhandler. On one hand, maybe they are super-hungry and haven't eaten in days. I'm going to ignore them so I can buy an extra 3 Musketeers for myself because "I deserve a treat!"? But there are certainly other panhandlers handling all those pans to feed a drug or alcohol habit. So sometimes I think they're just going to spend my money on drugs, but I wonder why that bothers me anyway. Addiction is strong enough to destroy lives, a drug addict suffering unassisted withdrawal puts his health in jeopardy, and also who am I to pass judgement like that? But the possibility that really gets my goat is the idea that some panhandlers don't need to be panhandling! I wish I could find the article to cite this, but apparently it's not unheard of that people asking for change outside the liquor store have stable homes and are just looking for a few extra bucks. There's a woman who panhandles at a nearby store and she lives in my building. Even if her rent is subsidized, surely she's paying her portion with more than quarters out of a hat. And she lives with her boyfriend who seems to have a job in construction or something. For those reasons, I don't often part with my dollar when asked for it on the street, but if I'm going into a convenience store or Tims or something, I'll sometimes stop and ask if they want a coffee or something to eat. Most say no, but some say yes, and I feel a lot better spending the extra dollar that way.

Put one more item on the grocery list. This is the easiest thing in the world to do. Next time you're out shopping, buy a can of store brand creamed corn, or get a thing of macaroni and cheese, or one extra box of noodles. There are hundreds of nonperishable grocery store items you can find for less than a buck. After you've paid for your groceries but before you exit the store, find the big food bank bin and just toss that one item in there (or, if you have the means, a whole bag of stuff) and feel great. I don't know about every grocery store, but most big chains like Sobeys and Safeway have that big bin right close to the checkout. When I think about all the leftovers I never get to and throw out, all the lentils and quinoa I buy with healthy intentions before finding them later and thinking, "This is some kinda bullshit", I really can spare the extra sixty goddamn cents for some kidney beans for people who are actually hungry.

Find that one thing you're really good at and don't get paid for it. This advice is a pain the ass because most people I know are looking to get paid for the thing that they are good at, including me, but until that day comes, we may as well quit bitching and do some stuff gratis. After a few shifts at a local charity I'm sure I've mentioned before but probably should have kept anonymous (let's call it Vittles in Vehicles), I started pestering the boss about how I am a writer good. Now I write the Vittles in Vehicles newsletters and mailouts every month from home for free and it's great. The last one I did I had to turn around quickly because the request came a little late. My boss wrote back, "Thanks for these, James. If you hadn't done this, it wouldn't have gotten done." That, to me, is small but important proof of my small but important contribution.

I know this entry is insufferable and goody-goody, but I write it here as much to hold myself to these standards as anything else. It's surely better and healthier to do charitable things anonymously, but I need to be held accountable. Also, it's time that helping other people wasn't seen as virtuous, but essential. Terrible things are going on in the world that simply can't be fixed by internet petitions or having the bloodiest bleeding heart. I so admire the people with the courage to get on the front lines, open the shelter, visit the orphanage, face the onslaught of bad stuff, but my admiration isn't enough to do anything. As a friend said recently about this Russia stuff, "At least we know there are people in the world who do know what the answer is, but I think this will be a slow process. We have to wait until they figure it out." I agree. Until we know how to help the entire global community, let's work a little harder and dig a little deeper to help our own community, however small it may be, because something must be done now.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Happy Camper...

Hello Friends.

This piece appears in the August issue of Saskatoon Well Being Magazine. Pick up your copy today or read it online here:

Hello Saskatoon,

I love a Saskatchewan summer. More accurately, I love what passes for a Saskatchewan summer. Those few weeks in July when I tuck a $5 bill into my winter coat pocket before putting it in the closet and think, “Man, I hope this weather lasts long enough for me to forget that’s in there.” I enjoy the trappings of summer as well. I enjoy a day at the beach, a twist of lemon in a beverage and the occasional blockbuster movie where aliens invade or a town blows up and nobody comes to terms with anything. But there’s one summer staple I can’t appreciate and it causes me grief every single year. I don’t like camping.

Being a person who doesn’t like camping is, I’d imagine, similar to being a person who doesn’t like dogs. People say things like, “You don’t like camping? But camping is so fun! Have you ever actually been camping? Do you know what camping is?” (Incidentally, my example is speculative. Of course I like dogs, as I am not a monster). I do know what camping is and I have been camping and I haven’t enjoyed it. However, people do not accept my rejection of camping as a matter of taste. Every single year, I field invitations to sleep in a bag and not shower, and every year I decline, but it seems unavoidable.
This month, in fact, I am attending a wedding in the foothills of Alberta, which boasted in its invitation that it was “close to some amazing camping” and to “reserve your spot as the grounds fill up fast!” What? What in Heaven’s name would possess a wedding guest to “camp out” for someone’s nuptials? Do you iron your dress shirt on a rock? Hang your blazer from a tree? I shudder to think what would happen to my fancy wedding hat! The point is, I stand to miss out on some great summer memories by consistently avoiding this tradition. Well, no more!

DREAM: Learn to love camping.

GOAL: Achievable. Things I used to hate that I now love: Chinese food, jazz, a side part, James Spader. If I can switch my opinion so completely on those things, surely my mind can be changed when it comes to camping. 

PLAN: Ensure that my next camping experience is completely ideal by solving
all the problems inherent in this summertime excursion. Problems like…

TENTS. The cliché that they are hard to set up is very true and one would think that with all the effort that goes into it, the end result would be more than a piddly neon dome that smells like hot dogs and stale beer. You can’t stand up in a tent, making changing your clothes nearly impossible and there’s no place to plug in your humidifier. Plus, tents aren’t suitable in any weather conditions. Any rain at all will leak through and soil the toupee you’ve removed for the evening. Any wind will threaten to uproot the tent entirely, so you have to awkwardly ask your fattest companion to hunker down in the most vulnerable corner (and they know what they are there for). Even in calm, sunny weather, tents conduct heat like…heat conductors, I guess, and you just roast in there.

THE FOOD AND DRINK. Beer and hotdogs are fine, but I’d rather have vodka and pad thai, personally. And it’s every night with these foods, always some variation of a barbecue staple and beer. These things are fine once in a while, but stretched over a long weekend, one becomes a bloated, lethargic outdoorsman whose job it becomes to hold down the vulnerable tent corner.

THE SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS. What is it about a sleeping bag that makes this whole situation acceptable? If a friend invited you to sleep over at his house, then said, “We don’t have a guest room, but we put a blanket on our kitchen floor and you can kind of roll up in it,” you’d leave in a huff, madam! But we wriggle into these cloth tubes every night that resemble a hideous cross between a coffin and a condom and sleep the night away. Well, I’m sure some people sleep. I toss and turn and think about the worms that must inhabit the patch of dirt that’s acting as a third-rate mattress. They really ought to be called awake tubes.

THE PLUMBING. Again, if you went over to a friend’s house on a Monday and they casually confessed that they hadn’t showered since the previous Thursday, you’d leave in another huff, madam! Similarly, if the water in your home was turned off for more than a day, you’d deem it unacceptable and call your MLA or whoever deals with that sort of thing. But we accept that complete lack of plumbing on a camping trip as just part of “roughing it.” Look, I don’t need to deep-condition and exfoliate every day (but gosh, wouldn’t that be heavenly?), but a shower is something I sorely miss when it’s gone. Not to mention the undeniable fact that there are no toilets anywhere. I’m not going any further into my discomfort with this issue. If you can’t figure out why it’s a problem, put down this magazine and head for some kind of care facility.

THE BEARS. There are bears in the outdoors, people. That’s where the expression, “There are bears in the outdoors” comes from. And I know a busy campground is unlikely to attract many bears, but like Advil, one is often enough. If you leave any food out or otherwise attract bears (like with a siren song or whatever), your camping trip/life is effectively ruined.

THE COMPANIONS. I love my friends, but I’m not about to spend an alternately drunk and hungover week sleeping on the ground next to them with unwashed hair having just relieved myself within earshot of both my pals and a bear. And I can’t imagine going on a camping trip with a partner. I’m certain failed camping trips (see: camping trips) are the reason for the high divorce rate.


I guess in order to combat all of these problems, I need to camp in a solid structure with plumbing, various food options, a comfortable bed and little to no bear access. I think I’ve found just the place that might become a new summer tradition. This month, as we head off to our dear friend’s wedding, we’re camping at a lovely spot called The Ramada. Luckily, my beloved has the same disdain for camping that I do and the closest we get to “roughing it” is accidentally leaving the Do Not Disturb sign on the door all day and not getting our beds turned down. Call me soft, call me a wimp, call me any name you like. Just don’t call me a happy camper, because you’d be wrong.

Thursday, 1 August 2013


Hello Friends.

What's the cut-off concerning one's age in months? A six-month old baby I can understand, but 18 months is cutesy and pushing it. He's a year and a half! Shouldn't he have his own Twitter or something by now? God, cut the cord. Part of the reason I'm glad this trend peters out, as a 361-month old myself, is that the start of every month is a complete and utter shock to me and my wallet.

I have not lived under my parents roof for almost ten years now and, as such, am subject to monthly expenses like rent, food, phone, etc. Intellectually, I know these bills are coming but somehow, mid-month, when nothing is due, I incur a stupid expenditure. About a week ago, for instance, I was at work and sweating like a monster. It wasn't hot in the store, I'm just kinda fat. I was wearing a black button down shirt, which you think would be forgiving, but I was horrified to discover that the sweat tributaries had pooled around my pizza gut and created a Rorschach inkblot stain which cruelly, inconceivably, developed a white outlet around itself on the fabric. Like my sweat was a dead man and detectives had to chalk outline the silhouette. I was horrified and decided with foolhardy, mid-month impulsion, to buy a sweater off the rack at the store. Granted, it was on sale, but even a sale sweater with employee discount works out to about forty dollars. Forty dollars, when I could have just folded my arms, or asked for a brief recess to air out my pizza gut in the break room.

I am not doing badly, from a financial standpoint. My job is steady, I have freelance income in dribs and drabs (but oh those dribs! If I had known volunteering for a non-profit would net me no more than a feeling of smug superiority, I wouldn't have gotten those highlights). Plus, the Doc makes enough Doc money to keep us more than afloat should I sweat on the wrong person and get fired. But I still feel that end of one month, start of another pinch and the associated guilt and shame cascade. That has to change.

Dream: Be better with money.

Goal: Achievable. When I lived in the Big City, I marvelled at my contemporaries. There were points when I held down one full and two part-time jobs, and I still had to hit Jon or my parents up for cash. It was humiliating and demoralizing, especially when I had coworkers in all of those jobs who seemingly made do just fine. I think part of the Big City's reputation for behaving arrogantly, as if Toronto were the centre of the universe, comes from the harsh reality that it's a really, really expensive place to live. In other words, if a Torontonian is able to somehow own a home and make a go of life there, it is because they have worked extremely hard to earn their spot, and would be hard-pressed to shut up about it. I couldn't hack it and it burns me up inside. But people obviously are smarter with their money than I am, so it is time to join their ranks.

Plan: Make more of it or, alternatively, develop a stronger hold on the money that I have. Here are some ways to build and save some income:

Seeds. Man, I wish I could just eat grains and seeds. They are cheap, plentiful, and healthful. Every month I could get an XL seed sack from the feed store, and just graze on handfuls whenever I was hungry. I feel like I'm constantly buying groceries for stupid meals to shove in our stupid faces. With just a little seed money (ha ha HA!), I could keep me and the Doc in lean, fighting shape.

Canvas. When did we all decide we just had to wear clothes? And not only that, but they had to be form-fitting, colourful, stylish, and different from day to day? I wish I just had a giant swath of canvas I could staple myself into every day. I'd have a linen canvas for summer, one lined with pelts for winter, and reversible burlap for autumn and spring.

Cable and PVR. You can fucking forget me giving that up. If I can't record Chopped, then fast-forward when the contestants talk to each other between rounds of Chopped (which, if you haven't seen it, is the most awkward two minutes on television), then I might as well live in a cave.

Live in a cave. If I could somehow move my bed into a cave and get some cave WiFi, I think I'd be okay. My apartment has me in a bit of a rage of late. Some asshat keeps pulling the fire alarm at four in the morning. The fire department has to come every single time, and check every suite in our 20 storey building every single time, while we wait outside and stew. I know this is not the building's fault, the fire department's fault, the superintendent's fault, etc., but somebody has to figure this out and until then, I hate that we're still shelling out so much in rent money. By the way, they've never found a fire and it's not a system malfunction, so I hope whomever the prankster pulling the alarm is ends up in a boy who cried wolf scenario where the tenants and fire department decide finally to ignore the blaring alarm while he burns to death.

Work smarter. The real reason monthly bills sting so much is because non-monetary return on my investment of time in projects and ventures I really believe in. I feel like I'm afforded wonderful opportunities to work with great people on exciting things, but I spend so much time and take in (comparatively) so little money that I can't help feeling discouraged and worse, as evidenced here, I can't help but whine.

I can't imagine what it must be like to have an actual six month old at home. Or an eighteen-month old. Or an eighteen year old, for that matter. When money problems move from being theoretical dilemmas to actual life or death situations. When I see parents, especially ones close to my age, I am galled by own indulgence and sense of entitlement. I think of my own parents, who worked jobs they hated when I was young, just to provide, then both of them changed careers in their forties and fifties, because they finally had a little more financial stability to do so. Yet, I don't have children myself, or a mortgage, or debt. I can't help but think if I don't work for minimum return now, I won't have that luxury later. Is it better to grasp at straws, be thrifty, and hope something big will happen? Or seek a more stable, if creatively stifling path, and just grow the fuck up? I'm sure there's an answer to be found here, but I can't think about it now. I have to get to work.