Thursday, 26 September 2013

Something to Worry About...

Hello Friends.

I buy into a lot of sentimental garbage. I love a photo album, or a Christmas Letter, or a well-structured commercial about dairy (like when the whole family sits down to a bowl of cheese for dinner). But the one concept I've never cottoned to is the nostalgic principle that there was once a simpler time. Approaching this idea from an historical perspective is not only grating, it's just wrong. People who romanticize the 50's and 60's as the time to be alive seem to forget that it wasn't so great for black people or women or gays or immigrants or the mentally ill or the differently-abled or veterans. For everyone else, though, so fun! But the point I can't argue as strongly is when people say, "I wish I was (whatever age) again. That was a much simpler/easier/better time for me." That position is indefensible, because a person will believe what they want about his own past and experiences, but when people say something like that to me, I'm always tempted to wrinkle my nose and ask, "Was it so great, though?"

If you experienced a really dramatic reversal of fortune in your life, I guess you'd be right to look back and say, "Life was better before I lost all that money in the stock market/married that sociopath/lost my leg to gangrene." But unless you can point to specific circumstances that forever altered the course of your life for the worse, to qualify one time as better than another is silly. You know how I know it's silly? Because when I snuggle in with my memories and a mug of warm cheese to look back on my own life, there are highs and lows to be sure, but I know I had a constant stream of worry with me every day for as long as I can remember.

Dream: Stop worrying so much.

Goal: Unachievable. I think it's a natural state, one of constant vigilant worry, because it propels us forward. People with no worries might be the envy of the rest of us, but they also have no incentive to grow and change. Plus, have you ever met one those, "No worries! It's all good! I'm too blessed to be stressed" people? They are the worst! First of all, they're probably lying, which is obnoxious, and the false front they present of being completely laid back also excuses them from any rational social behaviour. These are the people who ignore deadlines, show up late, never plan, and generally shirk responsibility because, "Lighten up, man! After all, it's a beautiful day! Don't sweat it." Goddamn you, Cool Coolerson, I'm sweating it like a heated butthole over here! If you work (or, god forbid, live) with one of these people, you know it is their lackadaisical attitude that keeps the rest of us scrambling to finish the job, put out the fires, and plan for contingencies. So it is not the concept of worrying itself that I want to avoid, but maybe I could change the script as it pertains to what I worry about.

Plan: List all the things I am currently worrying about in the hopes that seeing them in black and white (or in the case of this blog, black and... what, ugly pale pink?) I will realize which are serious worries and which are frivolous, and so be able to sleep better at night. Here's what currently worries me:

  • I forget to turn off the stove and leave the burner on high heat when I go to work. Our apartment burns down in our absence.
  • I forget to turn off the stove and leave the burner on low heat when I go to bed. Nothing burns down, but the apartment slowly fills with gas somehow. Jon lights a morning cigarette and blows us up.
  • I have to turn the TV up so loud when I'm watching a DVD that it's ridiculous. I'm concerned that this is not a technical problem but that, in fact, I'm slowly going deaf. I also worry that I'll forget the TV is turned up this loud, switch from DVD to regular TV, and then IT'LL BE THIS LOUD AND THE NEIGHBORS WILL POUND ON THE WALL AND COME OVER AND SHOOT ME DEAD WITH A GUN!
  • My occasional lower back pain is not the result of tight belts and slouchy posture, but some kind of chronic, life-threatening illness. Back AIDS.
  • Some spying pervert will take a picture of me on the sly with his phone when I'm getting changed in the locker room after a swim. Because I'm unaware the picture is being taken, I won't have time to suck my stomach in and my genitals will be all George Constanza "I was in the pool!" and the picture will be widely circulated as some kind of fail meme.
  • My food is giving me cancer.
  • My cell phone is giving me cancer.
  • I am accused of a crime I didn't commit and buckle after only 45 minutes of police interrogation and falsely confess so everyone will stop yelling at me. This confession seals my fate and I spend the rest of my days folding sweaters in the prison's version of Banana Republic.
  • An overdue library book, movie rental, or lapsed gym membership is taking money out of my account every month without my knowledge. Soon I am $300 000 in debt.
  • I sit next to a casting director on a plane. Throughout the flight, I make several witty observations about air travel that are refreshing and not at all hacky. He is so impressed that he offers me a small but substantial part as the wisecracking best friend in a Judd Apatow vehicle. I am thrilled and show up enthusiastically every day of shooting, riffing on bits with Jonah Hill, gently ribbing Franco, earning that throaty Seth Rogen laugh. The film is released and deemed far and away the worst in the Apatow canon all because of me. "The Magic Is Gone... James to Blame!" screams Variety. My film career is over before it starts, and I've taken a comedy franchise down with me.
  • Living paycheque to paycheque catches up and Doc loses his job and suddenly we're old and poor and living in his Ford Focus which we have to move all the time because of tickets and we tank all of our job interviews because we've been storing our best clothes in the trunk and they're all dusty and we smell like cigarettes and Wendy's.
  • I become so addicted to online Scrabble and refuse all offers of help so I end up living under a bridge that has WiFi, shuffling tiles obsessively, waiting for turns that can't come fast enough. A triple-word score TAXABLE is all that keeps me from taking my life.

Okay, so my actual worries aren't this ludicrous, but they're pretty close. The thing about worrying is that it does you no actual good when bad circumstances befall you, because the thing you worry about doesn't come to pass. This other random, out-of-left-field situation lands in your lap and suddenly everything else is meaningless. I know enough to be really grateful not to have one of those "perspective-shifting" problems in my own life right now. I have a great life with an amazing partner and great friends and family. I have my health. I have a job. I have to shower and eat before that job lest I be late and lose it, so time to put these worries to rest, at least for now. After all, it's a beautiful day.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

No Comment...

Hello Friends.

If you come across footage of the moon landing, you might gaze reverently at the truly awesome spectacle. Conversely, you might watch the grainy footage closely and critically, wondering if there might be something to the conspiracy theory that the whole thing was staged. You might look on it as the Great American Accomplishment. Whatever your view of the historic moment, if you go in search of it on YouTube, a site many of us visit daily, the first comment you'll read is "Is your ass jealous of the amount of shit that comes out of your mouth?" Really boils the whole thing down, doesn't it? Move over, "One small step for man", a new perfect phrase has been found.

The internet does a weird thing where it makes us feel more special than we are, and suggests that our opinions carry more weight than they actually do and must always be shared, he said from his blog. Nowhere is this idea more evident than in the rise of what has been termed Commenter Culture. Used to be that the only people you might put in such a category were the sunlight-deprived crackpots that write Letters to the Editor in the newspaper. Now suddenly everyone's in line for a tinfoil hat of their very own!

Whether it's a YouTube comment like, "y can't music b good like it was in 2004? that was real artists" or a Huffington Post think piece about Millennials, Syria, or Miley Cyrus, we've all got itchy keyboard fingers. I think I'm conditioned to the point where, if I start reading an article or watching a video, I'm already formulating a commenter response in my head. For instance, someone posted this article on Facebook the other day. I liked the piece, then read some of his other work, and became disenfranchised. The author writes in another post that he opts out of some vaccinations for his kids, for instance. He says that Hepatitis B can be avoided by changing one's lifestyle and making healthy choices. He goes on,

It’s the same thing that entices health teachers and politicians to make the maniacal claim that HIV is an “equal opportunity disease.” We’re deathly afraid of coming anywhere near anything that might be construed as — GASP! — moralizing. Instead we go around babbling about how everything impacts everyone in the same way, and our own decisions are never to blame when bad things happen.

I think that's a shitty thing to say, and I think it's shitty not to vaccinate your kids. But I don't have HIV or kids, no dogs in this fight, in other words. Also, nobody made me read these articles, I could certainly have used my time more constructively. It was all I could do not to respond in all caps, "THIS IS WHERE YOU'RE WRONG!" But I didn't write that or any other comment because who gives a shit? Really, truly. Who gives a shit?

Dream: Stop commenting on stuff on the internet.

Goal: Unachievable, or Achievable, depending on context. There are things I love commenting on and will continue to comment on. Facebook things, mostly. I love pictures of my friends and their little babies. Plus, I know some clever-ass creative types who post their clever-ass creative work! (Consider my old friend Niko, who created this videoto compete for a scholarship. If you like this, be a love a vote for it, won't you?) Also, I will share things that inspire and provoke me in the hopes that discussion will occur, but only because I know my friends will see them, and I want to engage specifically those people. So I will continue to comment things that are affirming, or at least somewhat informed. But no more arguing for its own sake. No more putting in my two cents when no one is asking for them.

Plan: Realize what I'm truly saying when I post any comment on a public forum. Here's what I need to ask myself every time I'm tempted to hit send:

Is this an original thought, or am I just adding to the noise?

Have you ever been involved in an intense conversation with a group of friends, and everyone is articulating cogent points, and then someone asks you what you think? And all you can do is lamely nod and go, "Yeah, I agree, pretty much, I guess." That's what Commenter Culture is, essentially. Somebody makes a point, somebody else makes a counterpoint, the rest of us go, "YEAH!" or "NO!" and that's it.

Speaking of original thought, the free-for-all that is online communication has created so many STEALERS! Stop stealing, you stealers! Don't quote something from last night's Daily Show in response to something political and not credit the source! And STOP STEALING JOKES! Oh man, I have this Facebook friend who I've only met in real life a handful of times, and every time he's friendly and affable, but dude is stealing his funny statuses right and left! It's rampant! And nobody ever calls him on it, but fuuuuuck you, buddy! Somebody smarter than you crafted a funny joke and you're going to pass it off as your own because you have nothing interesting to say?

Is what I'm saying constructive, critical, or just contrary?

It's fine to offer legitimate criticism of something. I love a blistering takedown especially when it's effective enough to tilt the windmills of the wealthy and powerful. But so many of us are simply contrarians. Smug, insecure, and usually fat, these are the folks who take the opposing view in every argument under the guise of careful consideration, when all they really want to do is be provocative. It's a young man's (or woman's) game, and reveals much more about someone's character than their opinion.

Am I motivated to speak out of anger, bitterness, or jealousy?

I'm a jealous monster. I'm ashamed to say that I still compare myself to others in terms of personal and especially professional success. I'm bitter that you and I share similar opinions and senses of humour, but that people pay money to hear what you have to say. I'm jealous that you get to have both wit and abs. I'm angry that your viral video got 10 000 hits and my directorial debut has yet to crack three grand. But all that anger, bitterness and jealousy does is keep me awake and give me wrinkles. I'm not motivated to work harder, I'm tempted to give up. But why feed the beast by talking shit about other people, y'know? How does that help anyone?

Who gives a shit?

We all need to ask ourselves this way more often. Not just in what we put online, but how we conduct our lives everyday. Nobody outside of your immediate circle cares how your day was, or how long you waited for the cable guy, or what you think of the new Miley Cyrus video (but ohhh god, since you asked I think it's great! She's got a rockin' bod and it's a good song and why are we so mad at her? You know who I am mad at, though, is Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga, I know you're trying to be meta and conceptual and weird-for-the-sake-of-weird, but it's not working. It's off-putting that you take yourself so seriously because you haven't given us enough stuff that's fun. You know why Madonna gets to make out with a black Jesus and wear dominatrix fetish gear and make pretentious documentaries about Africa? Because of Lucky Star and Holiday and Dress You Up (In My Love). We collectively fellate Justin Timberlake for his "mature" sound because of his NSYNC days and McDonald's commercials. They were fun and light before becoming heavy and dark, so our appreciation stemmed from the contrast. But you didn't give us a chance to warm to you, Gaga! You just got all weird and expected us to follow you! NOPE! Okay, I'm done for real this time).

As the previous parenthetical digression illustrates, sometimes I have to comment about inconsequential matters. We can wring our hands and pace the floor and wonder, "What's to be done about the idiots on the internet?" And we can demand better of ourselves when it comes to posting publicly. For instance, all of my comments, for better or worse, have my real name on them. I'd rather have any dumb jokes or smart critiques credited to me rather than BonerDude83. But for now, I think I'll think twice before joining the fray, and maybe put more energy into walking away from the computer. It's not a long trip to leave the laptop and go out into the real world, but perhaps it's "one small step" that this man ought to consider.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Get On the Bus...

Hello Friends.

This appears in the September issue of Saskatoon Well-Being Magazine, which you should pick up right now as it will surely be a collector's item. Enjoy!

Hello Saskatoon,

I don't drive a car. I don't know how to and I never learned. When I tell people this, I experience the same reaction I give to people when they tell me they don't watch television or eat meat or cheese. "What do you sit and look at?!" I think, horrified. "What in hell do you put on bread when you feel sad?"

I can't explain why I didn't get a driver's license as a teenager without detailing a complex list of my neuroses (and Well Being's editor tells me I have to use those sparingly as she has many more issues planned). Basically, I couldn't master the level of multitasking required to drive well (monitoring speed, traffic, steering and looking cool) and the idea that a mistake behind the wheel could cause mayhem, destruction and death is frightening enough to keep me out of the driver's seat.

As I say, people don't take it well when they find out I don't drive. "You don't drive? Well, you should!" they say. I hate being told I should do something by people that have no authority over me. "You haven't seen that movie? You should. You don't eat organic? You should! You haven't had sex with a gymnast? Gosh, you really should." But beyond telling me I simply should know how to drive, people have what they believe to be an indisputable argument: "But how do you get anywhere?!"

Well, I walk a lot of places. Remarkably, the same legs that take me from the couch to the fridge can also propel me across bridges, up and down hills, almost anywhere. If I'm out late somewhere, I'm the first to call a cab. I have friends and lovers who drive and if they want some sweet James-company to a place that's only accessible by car, they simply must chauffeur me. Oh and there's one other thing I've relied on since I was old enough to leave the house by myself, one thing I’ve been able to find in every city I've ever lived in, one thing that's always available that not enough people appreciate: I take the bus.

Dream: Get more people on public transit.

Goal: Achievable. Unfortunately, public transit in a lot of cities suffers from apathy and misinformation from people who don't actually use it. People snort, "The bus? That doesn't go anywhere! Transit service is terrible here! I never take it!" Because people believe that to be true and stay off the buses, the buses don't have enough riders to sustain service and the service indeed suffers. In a city like Saskatoon, where most people drive, buses travel nearly everywhere in the city, albeit less frequently, and it costs three dollars a ride. In a city like Toronto, where nobody drives, buses, streetcars and subways travel everywhere in the city, very frequently, 24 hours a day and it costs three dollars and twenty cents. So it seems that if you want better bus service, you actually have to take the bus. I'm not going to tell you that you should, but I am going to tell you what's great about transitioning to transit.

Plan: Tell you, dear Reader, what makes opting to take the bus a really great choice.

It's cheaper. I know, on the face of it, that paying three dollars for a 10-minute ride to Midtown Plaza seems a little much, but consider how taking your car amortizes out over the same trip. Cars cost a crazy amount to buy and I don't know anyone who's driven the same car his entire life, so you're looking at a couple of expenditures that will cost, conservatively, $15,000 to $20,000 a pop (Is that right? How much is a car? I'm terrible at guessing the prices of things I don't own. I'd be that "One dollar! One dollar!" buttface if I was ever on The Price Is Right). Also, consider the cost of gas, not to mention insurance! My beloved very slowly struck a pole in an icy parking lot one night five years ago and still pays out the nose for it every year. His car was fine, so was the pole, but it must be a very litigious pole with a team of lawyers to justify those insurance bills. Additionally, if one uses transit regularly as a way of commuting to work, a monthly pass pays for itself. I take transit at least twice a day so the cost of my pass is negligible.

It's easy. Sitting on a bus requires absolutely nothing of a passenger. You can listen to an iPod, you can read a book, you can text your stupid friend who sends you boring non-messages like, "Hi! :)" and you think, "I guess I'll engage in this now." You can ponder life's Big Questions ("Who are we? What is our purpose? How much does a car cost?"). You can be as distracted as you like and your negligence won't kill someone. Do I have to lecture you guys about texting and driving? Honestly, how many people have to die so we can continue to send "Hi! :)" to our nearest and dearest?

It gives you time. People complain about the waste of time waiting for a bus and then the circuitous route a bus takes to get you to your destination. Plus, if there isn't a bus stop right in front of your home and right in front of where you want to go, you might have to walk a little bit. I'm so, so sorry this fate has befallen you, but there is another way to look at it. Drivers, how many times have you realized you were running late for work, jumped in the car, fought traffic the whole trip, arrived just under the wire, started your work day and felt totally overwhelmed, stressed out and unprepared to begin your work day, right from the start? Transit commuters don't suffer that as much. My commute to work is a leisurely five to 10 minutes of walking and about 10 minutes on transit. It might be a bit faster in a car, but I don't care. Those 15 minutes before a shift give me time to mentally prepare, get in the zone, anticipate what my day might look like. That 15-minute ride home gives me time to decompress, leave work at work and fantasize about what Netflix show I might like to binge-watch tonight.

It's communal. Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that people don't suck sometimes. People can be the worst! But I get a little scared of our tendency to isolate ourselves from the outside world. The internet allows us to connect and communicate with people we've never met, one can create an entire work and social life from the comfort of their mom's basement, but like teenage boys that grow beards, just because we can do it, doesn't mean we should. I think there is something healthy and affirming about being with people, even if it's just physical proximity. A random bus might contain a senior citizen, a single parent, a little kid and a sullen teen. You might sit next to a Muslim and across from a vegan. Maybe you'll overhear a group of girls giggling about a boy or a cluster of labourers griping about their boss. My point is you get a dose of humanity on transit that you don't get locking yourself into a car every day. The other day, I was on Edmonton's LRT (light rail transit that goes both under and above ground) and as we crossed a bridge, a four-year-old looked out the window and reported, "I think we're in a helicopter, Mummy." I mean, can you even? A small moment, sure, but I'm smiling now as I think of it.

I've been lucky to live in cities all my life. I've lived in places where transit is prioritized and available. I guess I'd have to buckle down and buckle up in the driver's seat if I ever moved to a small, bus-less community and needed to travel back and forth. I'm certainly not suggesting that anyone can live without a car; sometimes circumstances dictate that you absolutely need one. But for now, if I find myself in Saskatoon or Edmonton or Toronto you'll find me blissfully answering texts on my way somewhere, comfortably at home on public transit. If you find yourself in those places too, why not join me? Or at least send me a text that says, "Hi! :)". I mean, you don't have to, but you should.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Ready to Wear...

Hello Friends.

This blog entry started out very different in my head. I've been sitting on a picture for a month, and I keep returning to it whenever I feel blue. There's something about it which is hysterical and that is the gentleman's face. Observe. LOOK at that fuckin' face! He's like a cartoon dog butler! A snooty cater waiter! A forlorn sadsack, a rumpled fish-man. Look at him again! Are you laughing? Are you at least smiling quietly to yourself? LOOK AGAIN! Is it funny because it contrasts to a beaming, unaware Gwyneth Paltrow? Because he's at a high fashion event looking like he's sooo over it? I don't know, but I found this picture over 36 days ago (I tweeted it, that's how I'll remember it forever), and it burrows in my brain like a worm.

My Original Dream: Find out the identity of this hilarious Mystery Man.

Mr Original Goal: Achievable. If one is in a picture with Gwyneth Paltrow (even if one is unaware the picture is being taken), one must have a modicum of fame and therefore be easily Googleable.

My Original Plan: Was to scour the internet until I found out this man's name and occupation. Well it was nearly impossible! I knew this picture was taken at the Met Ball, a big gala thrown by the Met in New York City and Vogue Magazine, and every big mucky-muck shows up. Some people look daring, some people look stupid, some people make their outfit from a couch.

Anyway, I Googled, "Who was with Gwyneth Paltrow at the Met Ball?" "Cartoon Dog Butler at the Met Ball", "Best Photo Ever Taken" and found nothing. Frustratingly, any press Gwyneth received referring to the fact that she didn't pose with her husband, who was also attending the event. Palty, I don't care about your husband, neither! Finally, I scoured Paltrow's own website, and found a brief mention of her Met Ball preparations, and then I discovered him.

The man in the picture is Pierpaolo Piccioli. He, along with Maria Grazia Chiuri, is the Creative Director of Valentino, one of the most prestigious fashion houses in the world. And here I was, snarkin' away, ready to turn him into a meme like some kind of asshole. The more I researched Mr. Piccioli, the more I understood how wicked cool he was. He jetsets around the globe, he dresses the world's most beautiful women, and he rakes in so much cash I could puke. Other than that, though, we're not so different. We both have droopy eyes and flimsy hair and  kind of a "duh duh" face . If Pierpaolo Piccioli is so similar to me in so many respects, why shouldn't I take it as a sign to be just like him?

Dream: Be the Creative Director of a fashion house.
Goal: Achievable. Look, no one has to hand over the reigns of Armani to me or anything, but give me Lady Walmart or Zellers Chubkids or something. All I need is one shot to turn the flagging fashion industry around.

Plan: Outline all I know about fashion in the hopes that an enterprising CEO will headhunt me for some clothes-makin'. For instance, did you know that the term couture, as it refers to the wares of a runway show, means handmade? Nothing on those catwalk models ever touched a sewing machine. Every seam, button, and trim was handsewn by some poor, emaciated seamstress onto some rich, emaciated model. Therefore, to decrease costs in both parts and labour, I'd make outfits from: paper, garbage bags, rice noodles, heavy cream, silly string, old VHS tapes.

Beyond technique and design, it's important to know the rules of looking good and dressing your best. Here's what I know of those rules:

Don't dress for the job that you have, dress for the job that you want. This why middle-managers are decked out like CEOs and pornstars dress up like pizza delivery personnel.

Wear what makes you feel comfortable. Maybe you wear your t-shirts one size too big every Friday to let your pizza gut breathe. Maybe you put a hole in your Spanx so urination is as easy as 1, 2, Pee. Who am I to tell you that's weird? (That is a little weird, though)

Jean fits should correspond to you the person who wears them. Are you skinny? Try skinny jeans! Do you take a more relaxed approach to life? Try relaxed fit! Did you once cut a homeless man with a boot? Try the bootcut!

Don't wear a tie the same colour as your shirt. Maybe if it's black, but even then guys. Come on.

Always dress to accentuate the least flattering part of yourself. Have a big tummy? Go with a low rise pant and a crop top. A sweet muffin top? Wear shirts with the sides cut out. If you can't laugh at yourself, how do you expect others to laugh at you?

Must have items for Fall: A black peacoat, a slim, dark denim, my insulin.

The most important rule of fashion is that no one cares. Do you ever see those fancy outfits on a runway show or in a magazine on an actual person? The industry is a fascinating one as it appears to be commerce in no way catered to its consumer. What we buy into when we flip through magazine, gaze reverently at store displays, and shell out just a bit more for a brand name is hardly the garments, but the lifestyle.

The lifestyle of Pierpaolo Piccioli is an enviable one, but there is surely a dark side to a life dependent on style over substance. How superficial is your worldview if months of your life go into designing one frock that one actress will never wear again? How hardened do you become when your every effort is pounced on by critics, when every picture of you becomes fodder for some dumb kid on the Canadian prairie? What does that do to your soul, and your spirit? I bet you come out looking something like this.