Thursday, 11 December 2014

Brush Off Your Shakespeare...

Hello Friends.

On Wednesday nights, I meet a man I’ll call George at a public library to tutor him in reading and writing. George is a cab driver, but is taking a high school equivalency program in order to eventually take a course in a trade, and get a better job. He is incredibly motivated, and sees improving his reading and writing with me as one rung of a long ladder. Consequently, the work we do relates directly to his high school equivalency program, which means we’ve tackled a Steinbeck, differentiated some metaphors from some similes, and run smack into Shakespeare.

Dream: Remove Shakespeare from the high school curriculum.

Goal: Unachievable. There is no argument I could possibly make that would sway any school board to remove Shakespeare from their high school classrooms. My mother is an English teacher, and she would surely put spider eggs in my Christmas stocking if she knew I held this opinion. My drama teachers would have expressive and highly-physical heart attacks (ideally before an audience) if they read this missive. A bunch of old white actors like Ian McKellen, John Lithgow, and Brian Dennehey would wail and keen and get Tony’s for it. But I will not be swayed.

Here’s the thing about Shakespeare as it relates both to young teenagers, and adults like George with reading comprehension skills that need the occasional boost: it’s too difficult. The language is dense, the length interminable, the story a foregone conclusion. Everyone knows Romeo & Juliet die in the end, as much is stated in the prologue of the play! But to me, forcing Shakespeare on readers at that level is like making students copy pages out of the dictionary as punishment. Useful as it may be, brilliant though Shakespeare’s work undeniably is, students learn to loathe it. Shakespeare is exercise, vegetables, and church. To a young reader, the only reward of Shakespeare is just getting through the damn thing.

“But you need vegetables!” I hear you objecting, comfortably ensconced in your adult intellect and perspective. “Shakespeare is so important! His work is the foundation of modern literature and drama! He is unparalleled!” I agree. He knows his stuff. No slouch, that Bill. Real class act. But try feeding a T-bone steak to a four year old and see how impressed she is. Suggest to a 22 year old that they ought to put half their paycheque towards retirement. Give a homeless person a gift certificate for granite countertops. They can’t appreciate these things, not yet!

George and I have taken several approaches to the Shakespeare play that will make up at least half of his school term. We try reading summaries before going into the actual text. We’ve watched film adaptations. We learned the choreography to West Side Story (not really). Eventually, we parse line by line and, motivated though we both are, we end each session frustrated and exhausted. I try to remain as driven and upbeat as the man I’m working with, but he sees through my attempts at cheeriness. “You are so tired,” he says to me. “You must go home, get a lot of rest.” This from a man who drives cab all night to go to school all day in an effort to make a better life for his family. But that’s Shakespeare, man! That’s the utter slog through. We will get through one speech, and then another, but by then, we will have lost our train from the first speech. An act doesn’t hold together, even with helpful prodding like, “But remember when Benvolio said…”, or, “Why do you think Friar Laurence agreed to…” When something is foreshadowed, it’s just another cog in an increasingly complicated machine. It’s like putting together a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle, and the picture turns out to be frustrated man putting a puzzle together.

Plan: Replace Shakespeare with other stuff.

It’s not that I don’t think we should revere Shakespeare, it’s quite the opposite. But I wonder if we shouldn’t treat his works the same way many of us treat the Bible. We know it’s there, we know it is the basis of many faiths, we also know Biblical allusions are found throughout literature. In the same way, we know Shakespeare’s the guy upon whom a great deal of modern work is based. Other than the Greeks, he kinda laid out the template for how we tell stories. But people derive meaning from the Bible in a rather piecemeal way. This verse of that Book, or Dave’s letter to Shawn or whatever. Likewise, why don’t we tell kids that Shakespeare’s the big cheese, and treat the cannon like it’s something to be culled from, rather than pounded into young brains?

Can’t we throw some more diverse literature at kids as a general rule? How many prizes does Joseph Boyden have to win before teenagers read his fantastic work? Does he have to be white and dead? What about Esi Edugyen? I tore through Half Blood Blues, I couldn’t read it fast enough! For that matter, why not give teenagers Gone Girl? Yes, it’s popular, but it’s not 50 Shades of Grey; it’s well-written and engrossing! Why does a good, enjoyable read and an assignment in an English class so often feel so different? In terms of plays, why start at Shakespeare and end with Our Town? Make them read Thomson Highway or Joanne McLeod. For that matter, get them scripts from TV shows or movies and show them what makes a smart sitcom script or gripping drama. Can you imagine how thrilled a classroom of teenagers would be to go through a classic Simpsons episode to try to figure out what makes it so well-written? What techniques are employed, what is the rhythm of the humour? Speaking of humour, what’s so damn funny about Shakespeare’s “Comedies”? At live performances I’ve been to, some people chuckle when the fool character gets up to his antics, and I want to throw my bug spray into their faces. “That’s not funny!” I want to yell at the chucklers. “You’ve just be told it’s supposed to be!” I don’t mean to be like a drunk at a comedy club, but where’s the part where I start laughin’?

I’m not suggesting we ignore Billy S. entirely. I’m just saying I don’t know any adults who tuck into a Shakespeare play when they’re looking to unwind. Shakespeare is always an assignment, always an undertaking. And it’s not as if, by taking it out of a few grade levels, we are depriving the world of the contribution Shakespeare has made. Shakespeare will always be the standard, whether or not 15 year olds scratch their heads over Hamlet for yet another year.

Even as I make this argument, I see the holes in it. We have to challenge students to get them to learn, and what’s a bigger challenge than Shakespeare? Who can say that by eliminating Shakespeare in high school, we won’t eventually eliminate him from colleges and outdoor festivals? Maybe no exposure to Shakespeare as a young person means that, when you encounter him later, you’re just as confused. I don’t know what the answer is.

What I do know is that reading isn’t fun for the guy I read with every week. Shakespeare is a unit to be suffered through, a test to be passed, then tossed aside and never looked at again. As we go back over and over the same speeches, desperate to not only derive meaning, but retain all the information for test time, I can’t help but think this isn’t how Shakespeare himself would have wanted his work enjoyed. I close with the man himself:

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended—
High school years are troubling times
With so much heaped on fertile minds

Take from this text what you will
Sorry it’s boring


Thursday, 27 November 2014

Used to Think...

Hello Friends.

I just saw the BEST movie. A friend and I spent a lovely cheap Tuesday night watching The Theory of Everything. Friends, run, don’t walk to The Theory of Everything. It’s a movie about Stephen Hawking’s life, which sounds like it might be too science-y at best or boring at worst, but it’s neither. Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking, is really something. As Hawking’s body degenerates over time, Eddie has less and less to work with in terms of physicality and speech, but the character is so well-rendered, you know exactly what he’s thinking and feeling. Anyway, I’m overhyping it surely, but just go watch it because you’ll like it and because what else are you gonna see? Beer Farts? Rage Girl? Dying Tears? Actually, I hear Katherine Heigl gives an amazing performance as Jonah Hill’s mother in Beer Farts.
A lot of things will stick with me about the Hawking movie, but one thing in particular about Hawking’s life and work has burrowed in my brain. Apparently, Hawking spent much of his early work as a Physicist promoting a particular theory about black holes. That theory was the basis of his thesis and his early published work. Later on, however, he determined that his black hole theory was probably wrong and set about disproving it. Think about that. Arguably the most intelligent man of our time looks at his own work and says, “Oh, that’s probably wrong. I was wrong. I should try to fix that.” Amazing! I wish more important people looked back on their actions and said, “I was wrong, let’s fix it.” What if Prime Ministers and Presidents did that? What if the Pope did that? Maybe we’ll never get Bush to admit the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, maybe Cosby will continue to insist that dozens of women are just making stuff up, but I can change my mind about some stuff. Let’s do it now.

Dream: Admit that some of my past beliefs, ideologies, opinions were wrong, and revise accordingly.

Goal: Achievable. I’m just a guy. Who cares if I used to think one thing and now I think another? But I do think it’s important to question one’s values every so often. I feel so young in so many ways. I can’t possibly know exactly what I believe about the world when I have had (comparatively) so little life experience.
Plan: Think of things I used to think, and think about whether I think that thing anymore.

I used to think night was better than day. I was a night owl for many years. At jobs, I would always take the afternoon/evening shift, so I could sleep in, and the night was mine to do whatever I wanted. Turns out all I wanted to do was eat bad food and otherwise defile myself. It would be a different story were I out on the town every night, trying new bars, going to concerts, socializing and cultivating night-based friendships. But I was on the internet in my jam-jams. Now that I work during the day, guess what I use my nights for? Hours of glorious sleep. I indulge in a different kind of gratification by turning in at 9.30 to wake up at ten after seven. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s more than nine and a half hours of bedtime. I can read for as long as I want. If I fall asleep right away and wake up in the middle of the night, I don’t panic like I used to. If I have a lousy night of sleep, I have the next night to do it over. I do this for all those friends with kids, or spouses that work opposite hours, or have such a full life that this amount of time dedicated to sleep is a ridiculous pipe dream they will never realize.
I used to think cream rises to the top. In creative fields, I had faith that the truly talented would prevail eventually, and everything else would fall away. Then I revised that opinion and believe more strongly that it isn’t about what you know, it’s who you know. Now I think it’s a little of both, or a lot of neither. It’s arbitrary. It’s a crap shoot. I know so many talented performers and writers who might not “break out” in any meaningful way, in spite of being incredibly talented. I also know many people who are so good at the game of networking, or making connections. For a long time, I watched the glad-handers, the ass-kissers, and the people who show up to everything, desperate to sell themselves. But I think that desperation comes across.

I knew a guy who was (and I think still is) the Artistic Director of a prominent theatre company. That is to say, I knew him personally more than professionally, and so didn’t consider myself among the networkers and hangers-on, of which there were dozens. People are overly-friendly with him, and slyly working in references to their own ability and wide open schedules. They might say, “So great to see you!” when they mean, “Give me a job, already!” He sees right through it and, while he is gracious, seems pretty immune to the empty compliments. I think honing your talent is just as important as making the right connections, but I also think some people “make it” and some people don’t thanks solely to dumb luck. And lest you think this is a self-pitying diatribe, I make a living writing copy, which is not creative, but I still consider myself among the dumb lucky ones.
I used to think whether or not you were gay was nobody’s business. Now, with important caveats, I think keeping yourself closeted for the sake of “privacy” is a dumb cop out. Obviously, there are exceptions here. If you are young, still figuring life out, and you stand to get the shit kicked out of you, stay in that closet until you can safely get out of there. If you are dependent upon parents who are assholes and will disown you, cut you off financially, etc., then of course don’t come out. If you live in a part of the world where identifying as gay puts you in legitimate danger, stay in the closet with my deepest sympathies and open invitation to Canada. If, however, you are an adult, if you support yourself, and especially if you have some poor secret same sex lover, lurking in the shadows, available for trysts, but not invited to the work Christmas party, then come the fuck out. The water’s fine. I regret waiting as long as I did to come out, as I experienced no fallout, but I also wanted to get out of high school first. I went to a great high school with great friends, and probably would have been fine there, too, but it can be a rough road for any teenager. I knew, on the cusp of adulthood, that I had no reason to hide, and no excuse.

There are still people who will say, “But it’s nobody’s business who I sleep with!” I completely agree. But there’s a big difference between saying, “I have a boyfriend named Greg and this is his home address and we have sex on Tuesdays and Fridays” and telling someone that you identify as gay. Consider, for instance, a person of ambiguous ethnic origin who is learning English as a second language. Maybe they are Japanese or maybe they are Korean, but it’s hard to tell. Another person might ask them, “Are you from Korea?” Maybe that’s a little forward, but it’s not an invasion of their privacy. The person would likely respond, “Yes I am” or “No I’m not”, and that would be that. It would be rude to say to that person, “What are your parents’ names? What do they do? Where do they live?”

Maybe I’m getting too activist-y, but I don’t think telling someone you’re gay is personal; I think it’s political. It helps out. The more straight people know gay people who are cabinet ministers, construction workers, Moms, Dads, colleagues, best pals, and douchebags, the more we’re just part of the world. That’s why I always wake up mad at Kevin Spacey, who plays the “Nobody’s business” game. Or Queen Latifah who “won’t discuss it.” Why not? You’re rich and famous, but made terribly insecure by this part of you that’s supposedly “nobody’s business”? The famous person who made me the angriest was Sean Hayes, who played the flamboyant Jack on Will & Grace. That was the most progressive show on television at the time, he was obviously gay, if not as stereotypical as the character he portrayed and he “refused to discuss it” until finally coming out for The Advocate several years after the show had been off the air. What does that do to the gay kids watching your show, buddy? Man up. And actually, the reason I’m mad at Queen Latifah was that her show was playing in the dentist’s office the other day, and she was taking a picture of her audience with her phone to put on Twitter. She said, “That’s not a selfie! That’s a somebody-elsie! We invented something new, y’all! A somebody-elsie!” The audience laughed and clapped while I seethed. YOU DIDN’T INVENT ANYTHING! A SOMEBODY-ELSIE?! YOU JUST TOOK A FUCKING PICTURE! YOU’RE SO STUPID!

I used to think the world was a magical, wonderful place. I don’t mean that it’s not from a poor me, doom and gloom perspective, because I have been a lucky person for whom the world has been a magical, wonderful place. Everything has been sunshine and lollipops for me because, as a white male, I was born on the sunny side of a lollipop field. Loathe as we are to admit it, much in our lives are dictated by privilege and circumstances, not our positive attitudes. I’m not explain myself well. David Rakoff said, and I’m paraphrasing, that you can believe in all the positive thinking that you want. You can have the sunniest attitude, and a “relationship with the universe”, and the belief that, by putting positive vibes out into the universe, positive vibes will be returned to you. But, Rakoff continued, if you’re a labourer in Bangladesh making 10 cents an hour at a fucking sneaker factory, you can think all the sunny thoughts you like, you’re still going to wake up tomorrow and have to work at the fucking sneaker factory.

I’m finding it hard to transition out of the “magical, wonderful place” model, especially because, as I say, my streets are paved with gold. I’ve got a job and a nice fella and have never been followed around a store, let’s say, or turned down for a job based on anything other than my qualifications. As a white dude, I’ve never felt vulnerable walking alone at night, or standing alone at a bar. I’ve never turned on the tv and not seen myself reflected back a hundred different ways. I haven’t seen hundreds of young white people go missing or be murdered, and if that happened enough times that it was noticeable as a larger trend, it would be on the front page of every newspaper every goddamn day.

It makes me heartsick when well-intentioned people like me say, “I just prefer to see the good in people.” Someone on my Facebook feed, in response to a Ferguson post said, “This whole situation is so negative! There are so many good things happening in the world, why not focus on that?” When someone says something so inane, what they’re really saying is, “It doesn’t affect me.” War in Iraq? “Doesn’t affect me.” Missing and murdered Aboriginal women? “Doesn’t affect me.” Unarmed black teenager shot dead by a police officer? “Doesn’t affect me.” It should affect you, it does affect you. To pretend otherwise is to be at best, a shitty person, and at worst, culpable in the injustices being committed.

It’s so tempting to deal in absolutes. I always do this, I never do that. I believe in this, but not that. I’m not a religious person, and I used to think that was a trait of religious people—the world is black and white, good and evil, etc. But now I think that’s true of only pious people, and the truly faithful struggle as much as the rest of us do.

In the course of proving and disproving his theories, Stephen Hawking became known as the most brilliant mind of our time. David Rakoff, in spite of his pessimistic nature, wrote some the funniest and most elegant prose I’ve ever read. I still can’t read his last book, published shortly before his death from cancer at 47, because the idea that such a writer has nothing left to be read makes me incredibly sad. The point is, neither man was content to say one thing and leave it there, they were furious and curious. Furious and curious aren’t bad things to be these days. At least that’s what I think.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Break the Internet, Volume One

Hello Friends.

Poor Kim Kardashian’s butt. Can you imagine being such a butt? A butt with so much attention? It must be so weird. I’m sure my butt has only received attention for something negative. I almost never look back there and say, “Good job, butt.”

By now you’ve seen or read about Kim Kardashian’s bare-assed cover of Paper Mag with the headline, “Break the Internet.” The suggesting being, I suppose, that this photo will be downloaded and viewed by so many people as to somehow exhaust the very medium that transmits it. We’ll wake up tomorrow internet-less thanks to this malevolent butt. Would that be so bad?

Dream: Break the internet.

Goal: Unachievable. There’s no way to shut down the non-stop garbage parade on the information superhighway (remember when we called it that?). But maybe if we thought a little more critically about what we are constantly consuming, we wouldn’t have to break the internet in order to get it fixed. This topic is a big one, so I suggest we approach the tear down and rebuild of the internet in stages, and this is my first idea.

Plan: Let’s start by revising the definition of pornography, shall we?

Is this naked photoshoot of Kim Kardashian labelled “Break the Internet” meant to evoke the nude photo hacking that occurred a few weeks ago? Classy move, magazine. Is it a commentary on the event, or just capitalizing on the trend of naked ladies? So much ink has been spilled about this, I know I’m just adding to the noise but beyond the fact that making someone’s private photos readily accessible to a public audience is a violation and a sex crime, I still think it positions a woman’s body as currency in a really gross way. The idea that women with their clothes off will somehow create chaos and corrupt us absolutely is just wrong. Again, I haven’t seen a lot of the photos, but these aren’t women having sex, these are women who are nude. Why does Vanity Fair, in their recent cover story concerning Jennifer Lawrence, print her statement in full about her feelings of violation at the release of those photos, with an accompanying pictorial of her naked in a swimming pool (albeit strategically positioned to cover her nipples)? In other words, Vanity Fair prints that accessing naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence is a violation (which it is), while splashing sexy pics inside their magazine to sell more copies (which they did).

Famously, a member of the United States Supreme Court, when ruling on whether or not a particular film qualified as obscene, couldn’t explain exactly what made something pornography or not said, “When it comes to [porn], I know it when I see it.” Is that true? Do we really know it when we see it anymore? A woman breastfeeding her child is not pornographic, but what if the child hasn’t latched on to the breast, and someone takes a picture of a bare-breasted woman about to but not in the act of feeding her child? Such distinctions are ridiculous, at least to me.

There’s a guy in this town that I fucking hate and I don’t even know his name. This guy, who goes by a ridiculous pseudonym and Twitter handle, is a bigot who couches his vitriol in the guise of right wing ideology. The only reason I know he exists is because his stupid blog is widely read (much more so than this one, I can assure you) and, in his review of a Fringe show called a particular performer, “A flaming Fringe faggot” (referring to the fact that this performer has been in several Fringe shows that are queer-positive, some are drag cabarets, etc.) Somebody got ahold of it, told local media, they ran with the story, there was requisite outrage, blah blah blah. I don’t know why, after reading some article about it, I was compelled to look further (the cyber equivalent of picking a scab), but I went to the writer’s blog and Twitter page. The rest of his Fringe Festival coverage was other play reviews, and then each “day” of the festival featured several pictures of women who were attending. Their heads were cut off in the pictures, so it was just the (fully-clothed) bodies of women walking around the Fringe grounds! This guy takes pictures of women clearly unaware they are being photographed covertly on his phone, then uploads them as “scenery.” As in, “There were many other great sights to see at the Fringe this year, heh heh heh!” followed by pictures of these women! From the “I know it when I see it” file, that’s ABSOLUTELY obscene to me. This disgusting man who doesn’t put his real name on anything is the type of person who the internet ought to break down on.

I guess we’re no closer to breaking the internet. Women’s bodies, the male gaze, and what constitutes pornography can’t be solved in a thinkpiece (even one as scattershot as this one). All I can control is what I watch which, for the moment, won’t be the famous butt that seems to be everywhere. I guess we can’t break something that’s already broken.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Old Yeller...

Hello Friends.

Dr. Jon teaches a class on Thursday nights, so I usually use those nights to cook the dinners only I like and watch the shows Jon has no interest in. I’m embarrassed to report that those shows include a program I will call by its Spanish name, Escandalo!

Escandalo! is a soapy, melodramatic program that centres around Kerry Washington and her impossible cheekbones, and together they fix what’s wrong in Washington (the place), and the presidency. Kerry is having an affair with the President (Escandalo!), but has also uncovered a secret government organization that exists beyond the powers of the White House (Escandalo!) and she’s having another affair with the interim leader of that organization (Escandalo!) who holds the position previously held by Kerry Washington’s father (Muey Escandalo!). While the show purports to be about corruption and intrigue in the highest office in the land, it’s basically House of Cards for stupid people. In spite of myself, I am hooked.

One thing the show likes to do (with the subtlety of a freight train, btw) is examine the effects of power. Who has it, who wants it, what will they do to get it and keep it, etc. Kerry Washington is especially good at playing this dynamic as every subtle shift reads on her stunningly beautiful face. She’s a great actress, but lately her job has been to simply react to horrifying things, and you couldn’t find a better canvas. But I digress. Because it’s all about power, and because the show is a little ham-fisted in delivering emotional punches, everyone on Escandalo! is always yelling at each other. As much as I enjoy the escapism of a night time soap, I couldn’t last in that world for two seconds because I can’t handle being yelled at.

Dream: Handle being yelled at.

Goal: Achievable. When I say, “Being yelled at”, I’m defining things very loosely. I don’t mean someone screaming obscenities in my face, which nobody should put up with, I mean when someone belittles me, or chastises me like a child for some perceived transgression. I don’t understand this practice at all.

When I was a child, I stupidly thought that kids yell at each other, sometimes grown-ups yelled at kids, but grown-ups don’t yell at each other (and yes, that naiveté is the incredible privilege of growing up in the stable, happy home that 1/10 of 1 percent of all kids get, my brother and me among them). Consequently, as an adult, I don’t know how to respond when someone starts yelling. My stomach churns, my heart drops, and I am immediately cowed and subservient, even when I know that I’m not in the wrong and have nothing to be chastened for.

Plan: Shake it off.

How does Taylor Swift do it? With all the haters, and the fakers, and the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world?

Sometimes I wonder if I have one of those easy-to-yell-at faces. Like a droopy, “duh-duh” face. During one job I held, I caught my reflection in a window once after I was yelled at from a supervisor who had actually gathered other coworkers around for some kind of public shaming. My posture was defensive, my hands were shaking, and I had the stupidest look my face.

There was a director I have worked with who is notorious for his verbal tear-downs. Years of doing it had given him a lot of practice and he could, without warning, really decimate someone he was displeased with. People will always work with him, though, and I’m certain his tenure as a great director will continue because he gets great results. Loathe as I am to admit it, he knows that intimidation works. After a particularly blistering rebuke of someone on a rehearsal day, he sputtered, “I care about putting on a good show. I don’t care about everyone having a good time” or something to that effect. What bothers me is that both things are possible.

I can think of bosses, supervisors, directors, teachers, and other people of authority who get stuff done willingly by a happy crew. I have stayed in lousy jobs and worked really hard to please people like that. I might put forth extra effort into something if I don’t want to get yelled at, but I’m going to give my truly greatest effort when I’m helping someone that I respect. If you want to find stressed out people, go to a retail store or a restaurant. If you want to find calm people deftly handling stressful situations, go to the some of the stores where I have worked. I’ve seen managers on the floor all day getting shit from customers, then get a call from some head office and get shit from corporate when the day is done, and those managers then take their shit out on nobody. People don’t get yelled at, people get treated with respect, and the work gets done.

There are always going to be people that behave badly, who believe that threats of catastrophe is greater motivation than positive feedback. There’s no point in trying to change people who exhibit that behavior because often it gets results from chumps like me. But chumps like me can change how we respond to bad behavior, even if it means faking the shake off until we can successfully make the shake off.

Dr. Jon never yells at me, nor do my work colleagues, nor friends, nor family, and I don’t yell at anyone myself (at least I don’t think I do). Still, I think it’s important to remind myself that yelling itself is inevitable, but valueless. The more import I give to this lousy method of communication, the more likely I am to internalize it the next time someone yells at me. If yelling at James gets results, James better stop producing results to reinforce the behavior. It is then that I am the worst version of myself and likely to treat someone badly in turn, and that would be truly scandalous.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Sexy Man Costume...

Hello Friends.

Halloween falls on a Friday night this year, it’s not uncomfortably cold, I don’t have any children, and I’m not deathly ill. For all of those reasons, I really should go out and have fun. I’ve complained in the past about adults celebrating Halloween is juvenile and just a chance to get skanky, but really, who am I to deprive my contemporaries of the privilege? Plus, I am told that Halloween is truly the gay man’s holiday. It’s an event where outlandish behavior and dress is not only tolerated, but encouraged. Actually, considering the ceremony and pageantry associated with Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, I’m fairly certain that any holiday is the gay man’s holiday, but anyway.

This ghoultide season (ha HA!), I’m stymied as to what to dress up as, particularly since the practice is encouraged around the office. My only idea (and therefore the strongest contender) is Business Cat. This costume will involve wearing my normal work clothes, plus maybe some cat ears, and going about my day.

If we do go out on Friday night, I’m not convinced Business Cat will play well at the bar. As much as a truly original costume like Business Cat is appreciated, funny’s no money when it comes winning the prizes offered at the night spot we might visit. There will be some women dressed in sexy lady gear and, because it’s a gay bar, there will also be men dressed in sexy lady gear. Since the only lady I’m comfortable dressing as is Diane Keaton, I need to find a Sexy Man’s Costume.

Dream: Design or discover a Sexy Man Halloween costume.

Goal: Achievable. My feeling is those sad Halloween stores really miss the mark when it comes to costumes for men. One I saw recently was lumberjack. I don’t know any actual lumberjacks, but I think if I met one, I wouldn’t be turned on by virtue of his profession:

ME: What’s your job?
LUMBERJACK: Lumberjack.
ME: Oh! So you… chop down trees?
LUMBERJACK: Basically.
ME: Huh! Don’t they have machines that do that now?
ME: I think so.
LUMBERJACK: I’ll be along now. Exuent LUMBERJACK

Plan: Design prototypes for Sexy Man Costumes based on the following ideas:

Sexy Single Dad. This one is for you, ladies. I’m not sure why, but many straight ladies I know turns all jello-kneed at the sight of a handsome single father. This costume is simple, fellas. Dress somewhat conservatively and walk around the party calling out modern names. “Makenna? Zaden?” People will be like, “Awww, those must be his kids!” Although I suppose they would think you were calling for your kids because they were missing at a large party, I don’t know how you dig yourself out of that hole. Okay, wear a t-shirt obviously made by children. So it has paint handprints on it and says “WE LOVE YOU DADDY” in crude font and then something like, “PS OUR MOMMY IS DEAD” so that everyone knows you’re a single parent, down to clown.

Sexy Vet (like veterinarian, not war veteran, let’s not make fun of that). One of the loveliest thing about Dr. Jon is how much he cares for animals. There’s something so appealing about that quality in a fella. So a Sexy Vet could wear a stethoscope, but have scrubs with puppies on them. Or he could carry around a bandaged bunny rabbit. No, that’s weird, that’s weird.

Brendan Fraser. Just dress like Brendan Fraser. Where is that guy? I miss that guy. Or rather, I miss him from 20 years ago. I remember seeing Encino Man when I was 11 or 12, where this dude finds a prehistoric naked and vulnerable Brendan Fraser and thinking to myself, “This shall be my life’s work.”

Sexy Apologizing Bastard. You know how there’s that person in your life, from work, or high school, or college who was/is a bastard? And there’s something about him that could potentially be attractive if he wasn’t a bastard? This costume is that guy, but he spends the whole night apologizing for being a bastard.

Sexy “What About You?” Guy. This one will be an even bigger hit than the Apologizer. This guy’s costume could be a mirror, or a t shirt with a big question mark on it. All he does is ask about your life and seem genuinely interested. Yeah, that would get annoying and suspicious after a while, but it could be sexy over the course of a party.

Sexy “Strong Without Effort” Guy. I don’t mean muscle-y juiceheads, or the guys at the gym lifting insane amounts and screaming with each movement like they’re making Sophie’s choice. I can’t explain it, but to me there’s something incredibly attractive about a man (a woman too, come to think of it), doing something taxing without obvious strain. Again, I don’t know why, but when a guy competently helps to move a couch or does pushups because he’s bored, that’s insanely hot.

Guy in a suit. Gentleman, just buy a basic suit that is TAILORED TO YOUR BODY and wear it around. This is so easy, especially because the resourceful guy can wear many combinations of one suit and a well-made suit lasts forever. Just wear a suit. Just wear a suit!

It says a lot about our culture that a sexy lady costume requires wearing some variation of a skimpy garment and who cares about the context, and a sexy man costume just asks that guys not be dicks for a night. I’m not the one to solve this quandary, but in general, I do think the sexiest thing anyone can be is an open, honest version of themselves. Or a Business Cat.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Do Not Not Disturb

Hello Friends.

I had to give up my little office last week to make room for a new guy. Now I work in a more communal area alongside my colleagues. Not really a cube farm, just a corner of a much larger room with three other people and a bit of foot traffic. Higher-ups broke this news to me as gently as possible, as if I might burst into tears, or cling possessively to the inspirational picture mounted to my wall. “No! I need my solitary space! How else will I LIVE?”

The answer is, quite comfortably. Though it was cool, when I got this job, to have my own office, it quickly became weirdly isolating. I found myself wandering over to the common area that now includes my desk to ask innocuous questions about a task, find out if I could help anyone out, or just chat. Turns out, unless I’m deep in the throes of a complicated assignment, I’d rather have some activity around me than none at all. Though I still would consider working from home the gold standard, but only because I imagine it the way Homer does, where Jon brings me a lemonade and a beer and we dance while I wear my fat guy muumuu.

There have been times in my life when I’ve really wanted to be alone. When I was a kid, I wanted my own room and when I finally got one, I guarded it fiercely (although it wasn’t as if anyone was desperate to gain access to the inner sanctum of a disgusting teenaged me). When I moved out on my own, I dismissed the idea of roommates entirely. At the time, my rent was so low I could easily afford a one bedroom apartment while working a crap job (something all but impossible now). Even after I met Jon, we kept separate residences for four years, and then have lived apart for long stretches since due to his work and mine.

The thing that surprised me about getting the solitude I thought that I wanted was that I became the worst version of myself. I’m not a depressive, but I am incredibly neurotic, and left unchecked by the presence of others, I become a literal and figurative mess.

Dream: Live in less privacy.

Goal: Achievable. I know that doesn’t make sense on the face of it. Who wants less privacy? Especially when one considers, beyond the tinfoil hat sort of way, that we lack so much privacy as citizens. Surely our emails are monitored, our money tracked, and suspicious movements subject to surveillance, and we’re not even important people. I wouldn’t mind if that scrutiny was lessened a bit; it creeps me out to think that none of us has any autonomy as a citizen of the world, I’m just saying I want people around.

Plan: Find ways to make myself more accessible and less imprisoned by my impulse to isolate. Such as:

Secrets. I don’t mean that I’m going to spill anyone’s secrets, anything I’ve put in the vault stays in the vault. I mean that I’m going to try to keep less secrets about myself, not that I have many anyway, but you get the picture. Anything I’ve held inside, for whatever reason, eventually festers and feels gross. Whether it’s times I’ve been bad with money, bailed on a commitment, treated somebody like shit, I have to own that stuff.

Relationship criteria. In my case, I’m not talking about criteria for a romantic relationship, as I’ve already got a good one of those; I’m talking about developing more connections and friendships with people. To generalize with wild abandon, I feel like straight women and gay men feel this need to have an inner circle, or maybe one or two confidantes, or one bff, and nobody else gets in. I look at the Facebook walls of my straight women/gay men friends and they’re filled with self-centered platitudes like, “I’m officially done with apologizing to people!” Or, “This is me, deal with it!” Or my personal favourite, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best!” Did you ever notice that people who say that actually have no best and are always the worst?

I’m not saying don’t be who you are, but never apologizing? Really? Isn’t life full of the mistakes we make and how we choose to correct them? Shouldn’t we be pliable as people, willing to accept different points of view, especially if it means changing our own? Isn’t that growth? If you’re going to summarily dismiss the people in your life who occasionally rankle or upset you, be prepared for the loneliest life! Ironically, these are the same people whose social media platforms are filled with Oprah quotes about “Living in the moment” and “Practicing gratitude”, but they can’t seem to do much of either.

Every body (even mine, even yours) is fine. The older I get and the more my body changes, the less I understand our collective insistence on privately (or publicly) tormenting ourselves about how we look. I don’t mean to be all free love and creepy, but they’re just bodies, man. Who gives a shit? It was awful and a huge breach of privacy when some person (or persons) hacked into the phones/computers of a bunch of female celebrities and posted their nude photos. A terrible violation, to be sure. But as I understand it, these aren’t pictures of people engaged in sex acts; they’re just naked selfies. The more we clutch our pearls and ready our fainting couches over nude photos that don’t depict anything sexual, the more we send the message that there’s something inherently wrong with our bodies.

I know taking this view is a little gross, it sounds like I’m defending the people that stole and leaked these photos, of course I’m not, but I read this article about teenagers and sexting recently that gave me a lot to think about. Because teens are perpetually horny and disgusting, and the dangers of sexual activity are hammered into them at every opportunity, a titillating but physically safe option seems to be sending each other naked pictures. I was surprised to learn that, at least among the teenagers surveyed for the article, there is rarely, if ever, a fallout as a result. It is only when parents find out and involve schools who in turn involve law enforcement, that it gets truly awful. Senders and sendees are interviewed, monitored, and in some cases, charged and arrested. The subjects of questionable photos have scarlet A’s permanently affixed to themselves as they walk the halls. Remember that this is not the result of explicit imagery of people engaging in sex with each other (though those do exist among teens and ought to be handled quite differently), these are kids standing there with their clothes off. Granted, if a naked picture of me was circulated among my classmates when I was a teen, I would be horrified and embarrassed. If cops showed up to interview me about it alongside my parents, I’d actually want to die.  

Again, I’m speaking only for myself here. And I think perhaps I’m confusing privacy with secrecy, or being alone with loneliness. There are private parts of my life that I keep close to the vest, and I wouldn’t want that to be violated, but I also know that I want people around that really know me, warts and all. I like how nobody has to awkwardly knock on an open door to get my attention at work now. Nobody needs to be invited into my space; you’re already here.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Katy Perry's Superbowl of Love

Hello Friends.

For an event I’ve never watched all the way through in my life, I have some pretty distinct Superbowl memories, and all of them involve performers. The Superbowl was where Whitney Houston sang that iconic version of The Star Spangled Banner. By the way, isn’t it sort of weird that the American national anthem is called The Star Spangled Banner? A star spangled banner sounds like a festooned sash at a children’s beauty pageant or the décor at a homosexual-hosted house party. The Superbowl is where Justin Timberlake grabbed the breastplate off Janet Jackson’s breast, momentarily exposing it to a pearl-clutching nation. I’ll never stop being mad about the fallout, by the way. He ripped her top off. Regardless of whether this was pre-planned, it’s an act of sexual violence to rip someone’s top off, why didn’t we get mad at him? A wall of shit really fell on Janet from which I’m not sure her career ever recovered, but Timberlake got off scot-free. Micheal Jackson did a half time show one year where everyone in the audience had to hold up placards to form a shitty picture of children holding hands, which is arguably the greater crime against humanity. The Superbowl was where Madonna and Beyonce led the half-time shows of 2013 and 2014, respectively, in a blatant attempt to bring women and gays to the tv for ten minutes and it worked.  

This year, it has just been announced, will feature a half time performance by Katy Perry. Madonna was good, Beyonce was fine, but Katy Perry? It’s like okay, universe, I get it: this is the most important Superbowl of all time in history, and I want to be a part of it.

Dream: Katy Perry performs a song about me in The Superbowl.

Goal: Achievable. Listen, stranger things have happened. Nobodies have star making turns all the time. Have you seen that “Apparently” kid? He hosts Ellen now. With viral memes, videos, and blog posts (right??) dictating popularity, it’s only a matter of time before something I produced gets beamed around the world into millions of homes, and I think Katy Perry is the perfect conduit.

Plan: Write to Katy so she has adequate time to rehearse James Is My Friend, Look At Him Go.

Dear Katy,

Hi! I’m such a fan of some of your music. I think you can craft a hit like no one else. Teenage Dream? Roar? Birthday? Forget it. Those will be pleasantly stuck in my head until the end of time. I even have an hour long workout mix of your tunes that I listen to while I sit around eating.

I’m not sure why you’re not given the credit of a Lady Gaga or Beyonce. To me, your songs are more instantly memorable, and you’re far better looking. I bought the issue of Vogue with you on it because look at you! You’re a goddamn painting! Wow!

Anyway, I know everyone is looking forward to a medley of your hits (but leave off Dark Horse, that one never really burrowed into my brain like the others), but what I’d like to do is really shake up your forthcoming performance with a brand new hit called James is My Friend, Look At Him Go. I’m not super good with music, but it should be upbeat and poppy. Lyrics below.

James Is My Friend, Look At Him Go

Who is the boy who has all the moves?
Who is the friend that’s closest to you?
Who is the man you want right by your side?

He is the guy who’s healthy and strong
He works in the day and sleeps all night long
He can’t drive a car so I’m taking him for a ride *Katy, good place for a sexy move here*


James is my friend, look at him go
He is a friend I think you should know
Patient and kind
He’s not your friend he’s mine
Go Big City James Go!

There comes a time when you’re all alone
No Likes on your status no texts on your phone
There’s only one boy who can make you feel alright

So give him a call and there he will be
He’s not just your friend, he’s friends with me
I’m Katy Perry and our friendship lasts all night



James is his name, and that’s all I know, Go Big City James Go (Go go GO!)


And that’s basically it. Easy, right? I don’t have any suggestions for dance moves, but maybe point in random directions in the audience like you’re pointing at specific people, in a “You! You! You!” sort of way.

Alright Katy, realtalk, that time you sang with that girl at an autism benefit makes me cry buckets when I watch it. If you want to do something as poignant and meaningful in your half time show in lieu of singing to me, I can’t stop you (though I have some musically inclined friends who just might decide to record this track if you take a pass). I’m just a fan and a nice person and it’s been such a long time since someone publicly performed in my honour, so…. Come on.

Love your friend,


Friday, 26 September 2014

Under the Knife…

Hello Friends.

Starting off on a bad foot because this is already late, but I also have to warn you not to expect a blog next Thursday either because next Thursday I am getting some work done.

The Cobra Superstar Oral and Facial Surgical Centre (not its real name) is just a few blocks from my house and offers everything from nose jobs to Botox injections. After an initial consultation and getting the right forms signed by a doctor, Jonny is driving me to and from Cobra Superstar for a brief procedure on October 3rd.

I could continue with this misdirection awhile because it’s fun, but truthfully I’m just getting some dumb operation done on my jaw because apparently (this is gross) there’s a tooth imbedded in there. I was hoping the tooth would be attached to one of those fetus twins but no joy. My dentist tells me that, while this imbedded tooth gives me no discomfort now, it will eventually hit nerves and the pain will be horrendous. The op is totally covered by my insurance combined with the Doc’s, so there’s really no reason why I shouldn’t get this troublemaker yanked outta me. If there are no complications and recover quickly, this procedure could open up a whole new world to me, and it might be fun.

Dream: Get extensive cosmetic surgery.

Goal: Achievable. Recently, I asked a friend, “If plastic surgery wasn’t at all stigmatized, would you do it?” She said, “Yes, totally. Wait, what did you say?” and I said, “If plastic surgery…” and she goes, “Ohh! I thought you said prostitution. But yeah. Yes to both” (she’s one of my best pals). And she’s right (about plastic surgery, anyway). If there was absolutely no stigmatization (and procedures were affordable and safe), wouldn’t many of us fix up our faces and bodies the way we get our hair cut or go to the gym? I know I would.

Plan: Make a list of potential procedures to undergo, assuming my rogue tooth is extracted from my jaw without causing me undue duress. Here’s what I’d fix if I could.

Ab implants. Would that be cool? I’m so tired of obscuring my pizza gut with big sweaters, Chinese dressing screens, and obvious props like a pregnant tv actress. I want to know what it would feel like to rub my hand on my belly and feel taut ridges rather than a hairy sack of gluten.

Face shortener. I have a longer face than a cartoon basset hound. I’m scared of ever getting a caricature done of me because I know it will just be a long bean riding a skateboard or something. What else?

Eyebag de-puffing

Ballbag de-wrinkling

Wit sharpening

Nipple sharpening. Just open cans of tomato juice instantly.

Nasal cavity widening. This will be a tricky one. I don’t want bigger nostrils, but apparently I have an irritating nose whistle. I saw apparently because I can’t hear it, but everyone around me can. In fact, I’m probably sending out a merry tune as I write, but I’m none the wiser.

Preemptive jowl filler. I know I should smile more to eliminate the future perma-creases on either side of my mouth rendering me a living Ben Wicks illustration. Actually, this has nothing to do with anything, but I read an article positing that facial fillers are a boon to AIDS patients. A small amount applied to either side of the face eliminates the gaunt, hollow-cheeked look common among sufferers. That’s a major downer, but the kind of thing one is tempted to trot out in defense of plastic surgery. Sorry for the AIDS digression.

Permanent hair. My hair has done me a solid over the years, can I get surgery to keep it on my head for the rest of my life? If that doesn’t exist, it should.

Finally, to steal a joke from Maria Bamford, what I’d really like to surgically alter is that part of my brain that cares what other people think. I’m not really considering any plastic surgery for myself right now, but I’m not one those people who casts aspersions on people who nip and tuck. A beautiful friend of mine confided that she had had a nose job in her teenage years and I stupidly thought, “But that’s impossible, your nose is so pretty!” But of course I’ve only known her with her current, pert and beautiful nose on her pert and beautiful face. Being (forgive me) nosy in turn, I asked if she had any other procedures done and she laughed and said, “No, I just had a big nose growing up. Now I don’t.” Simple as that.

Of course anything can be overdone and ghastly, and the effects of plastic surgery are permanent, but so are tattoos and we’ve become perhaps too permissible where those are concerned. All I would hope is that if I do ever seriously contemplate getting something done, it’s for my own peace of mind and nothing else. I hope I don’t age into Botox where a 60 year old James looks like a permanently surprised 70 year old James, or buy myself a new schlong for Christmas, but it’s my own damn business if I do. If there’s something different about me one day that you can’t quite put your finger on, don’t ask me to explain myself because I’ll probably just do what is advised for my recovery after next Thursday: keep my mouth shut.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Blinded With Science...

Hello Friends.

Do elementary school children still have to participate in science fairs every year? When I was a kid, science fairs were mandatory. I don’t remember what all of my projects were, though I never did that copout, the volcano one. One year, my mother saved all the bones from a helping of chicken wings, and then I traced a picture of a dinosaur onto a piece of cardboard, then put glue over the tracing, then glued the chicken bones onto the picture. I’m not sure what about this project made it an experiment, exactly. I know people walked by my display and probably asked, “What is your project about?” and I probably pointed to the picture and said, “Dinosaur.” It really shed light on the age-old question, “Did dinosaurs have bones?”

There’s a picture of note in our family album from my third grade science fair. Little James, in his little sweat suit (my uniform of choice, apparently), standing proudly in front of a big folded cardboard display that we all used for science projects. On one side of the cardboard display, written in red marker in my finest all caps printing read, “ARE FINGERPRINTS DIFFERENT?” Below the text were fingerprints from various family and friends. On the other side of the cardboard display, written in green marker was, “YES.”  

All of us laugh at this picture when it appears in the family album, but no one can get on a better roll about it than my father, who lapses into hysterics. “Are fingerprints different yes! What the hell kind of project is that? Look at you, what a wiener!” Lest this paint a bad picture of Dad, trust that he was always supportive and encouraging to me when I was a child, and it truly is the most heinous science project imaginable. Are fingerprints different? The fact that this was my topic suggests two possibilities: one, even at eight, I was more interested in taking the easy route where projects are concerned and built a project based on a foregone conclusion or two, more troubling, I genuinely didn’t know that fingerprints were different! What a stupid kid! That’s literally the second thing you learn when you learn about fingerprints! A) They are prints of your finger and B) They are all different from each other! How could I have missed those facts as a child?

LITTLE JAMES (pointing to smudges on window): What’s that, Papa?
DAD: Those are fingerprints, James. When you touch something with your fingers, it leaves behind a fingerprint. And every person in the world has their own unique set of fingerprints. Nobody’s fingerprints are ever the same as somebody else’s!

Dream: Improve my grasp on science.

Goal: Not achievable. If trendy listicles are to be believed, science is really enjoying a cultural resurgence. My Facebook feed is littered with posts from a site called, “I fucking love science.” Everyone seems to be watching that show Cosmos and kneeling at the altar of Neil Degrassi Junior High.

My trouble is, I lack even the basic principles upon which scientific discovery is based. For instance, you could tell me anything about what bees do in the wintertime and I would believe you. Fortuitously, I found out in high school that a twelfth grade science class was not required for my university program, so I scraped by in an eleventh grade physics course before leaving science behind forever. Even in University, though a science elective was required, computer science counted as a science! I barely eked out a pass making animated gifs out in MS Paint. The point is, having never taken any courses, I still have a child’s grasp on chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy, and all mysteries of the universe. It is time, therefore, to start figuring out the basics for myself.

Plan: Develop a successful third grade science project. Look, I’m not going to do research for fun, or read any books, but the least I can do is try to erase the distinct impression of my fingerprints fiasco. Here are some hypothetical projects that I could undertake:

Does a Plane Stay In the Air? Yes. This project would actually be another cheat because I did hear something on the radio the other day that explained the phenomenon quite plainly. Airplane wings curve up slightly so that it takes longer for air to travel on top of the wing than it does for air to pass below. This creates stronger air pressure on the bottom so the plane cannot fall out of the sky. However, I wonder if the muffled farts of airborne travelers doesn’t also help somewhat.

Do Cellphones Give Us Cancer? Yes. It’s gotta be cellphones, guys. To think that we’re sending and receiving enough signals both determine our exact coordinates on the planet and also download the new Taylor Swift song, how can that be healthy for our squishy melon heads?

Do Animals and Babies Keep Us Healthy? Yes. I want to hold your baby. LET ME HOLD YOUR BABY! Also, can I pet your dog? I really think my daily worries would decrease dramatically if I could play with a baby and/or dog sometimes. Pets are no longer allowed in our building and the Doc and I aren’t at the parenting stage yet, but I just want to have a friend with a baby who lives close by so I can snuggle it and give it squishes. Sometimes a baby will reach out and grab your finger with its little fist and that’s better than any 2 for 1 drink special. And sometimes you’re worried about your job or how fat you are and a dog comes by and puts his head on your knee and says, “Hi, can we play?”

Further to this idea, I know a man who is originally from India and he told me, in half-apology for his irreverence, that in India, they refer to Alzheimer’s and dementia as the white man’s disease. There are conflicting studies on this issue, some suggesting that degenerative brain diseases simply aren’t properly diagnosed in other parts of the world, and some maintaining that they are actually more prevalent in Western society. But anyway, my friend said that the cultural expectation where he is from is that the elderly parent is moved into the family home, or is otherwise integral to the family life. There’s no, “Going to visit Grandma”, Grandma is as much a part of the family as Mom and Dad. This structure keeps Grandma sharp in turn, because there’s often a baby or young child underfoot. There’s no boring routine to settle into if there’s a baby around! Grandma’s mind is sharp out of necessity and constant stimulation. Anyway, science.

Can We Smell Better? Yes. I really don’t think we’ve hit the zenith of what perfumes, colognes, deodorants, and breath freshener can be. I know people will tell you those are chemicals and toxins and “you don’t need it!” but those people are wrong and they especially need it. How come some people carry off a great scent so perfectly from morning until night and the rest of us somehow lose the smell of our cologne by ten in the morning and smell like ham the rest of the day? For all the shit I give my former job, the cosmeticians who work in those big drugstores really know their stuff. They have to attend several workshops a year as put on by various vendors so they can both speak knowledgeably about what they sell and sell it. Anyway, from learning at their feet, I know that a lot of people choose the wrong scent for their body chemistry. Also, and this is fascinating, did you know that the pigment in a person’s skin determines how deeply they absorb the scent on their body? In other words, the darker someone’s skin, the more the smell of their cologne or perfume sticks around, the better they smell. I’ve worn Armani Code pretty consistently in my adult life, but I don’t know that it does me any favours. That said, I have to be ahead of the game somewhat if I’m not dousing myself in Axe. People still do that. A guy beside me at the gym had so much on that I was tempted to move from my machine, but Chopped was on and I can really only enjoy that while moving at a glacial pace on a bike screwed to the floor.

Is Science Necessary? Yes. Despite my reluctance to learn anything, nothing chaps my ass more than willful ignorance to scientifically proven information. I read recently that schoolchildren in the wealthiest part of Los Angeles had vaccination rates lower than the South Sudan. Are people insane? The long ago study supposedly linking vaccination to autism was debunked and the study’s own conductor admitted to fabricating all of it! Perhaps we don’t know the long term residual effects of some chemical combinations in vaccines but we know it sure as fuck prevents polio and whooping cough in the short term. And I sure hope members of the “No such thing as climate change” crowd were relaxing in Calgary two weeks ago when Sunday was a balmy 25 degrees and Monday saw the city covered in snow.

I can admit to a lack of both interest and aptitude in science, but I can certainly appreciate the tireless work of the people in that field. While I don’t think it is the worst thing to be stymied and confused by scientific discoveries, I do think it’s crappy to be incurious. Learning things makes me feel smarter, and being convinced you know everything already makes you a real dope in my book. Every person accrues a certain amount of information and expertise in their lifetime, and everyone’s base of knowledge is completely unique. No two are the same. Much like snowflakes.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Pizza Day...

Hello Friends.

I am writing to you this afternoon on my lunch break at work. After a fairly hectic week, my boss has ordered pizza for the office and we’re waiting for it to arrive. I can only think of pizza. Anything could happen right now and it wouldn’t take my mind of pizza. Joan Pizza could be brought back to life and hit the pizza carpet with her fashion zingers and I’d still be all, “Pizza!”

The trouble is, my gut, ass, thighs, and upper arms are also pizza. Upper arms, that’s the cruelest fat depository! I was feeling so pleased with myself at the gym yesterday doing shoulder presses. The machine faces a mirror and I saw what I thought were muscles bulging under my shirt, but it was only goddamn pizza. If I can grab and manipulate the flesh on my arm, It’s not muscle tissue, it’s DiGiorno.

Notice how I aggressively inserted that “In the gym yesterday” bit? Yeah, so did I. After parting ways with my Big City Gym when I moved, I was content to just go swimming at the university for any kind of fitness, but now that classes have started up again, the pool is so goddamn full of youths that I can’t be bothered to go anymore. Instead, I found a good gym and a pretty good rate and thought, “Now everything will change! Goodbye, fat guy underwear!”

Anyway, one of the “perks” to this gym membership is a consultation with a hunk employed by the facility. I dreaded my consultation because I knew I’d fail terribly at all of the tests and I was right. But beyond sweating, humiliated, at the machines, I also had to have a chat with him about nutrition, during which I lied through my goddamn teeth.

Dream: Eat better.

Goal: Achievable. The hunk explained that diet was responsible for like 70% of achieving a successful fitness goal, to which I wanted to ask, “Could I counteract some of that with aggressive pooping?” I don’t eat garbage food, I cook at home a lot, but I cook red meat, and chicken, and pasta, and dishes where the only vegetable is mushrooms, and the only side dish is more of the entrée. But at the same time, my own lightning-fast metabolism has slowed down because I’m too old to figure out how Instagram works.

Plan: Adopt the following strategies to eat better, get healthier, and buy thin guy underwear again.

Cook and eat more nutritious foods. That’s definitely something that works better in theory than in practice. Have you guys had nutritious food lately? It’s fucking gross. Kale? Gross. Quinoa? Gross. Spinach is okay, but only because you can wilt it in garlic and toss it in some goddamn noodles. I think I’m going to try to integrate healthy components into unhealthy dishes. I’ll put an orange segment next to my steak, for instance, or a broccoli floret will garnish my tumbler of Baileys.

Eat less. It would really be a win-win if I could do this. I would have less food to eat, but more food leftover for lunches. As often as not, however, I’ll make a big dish of something, justify a second helping, eliminate all possibility for leftovers. I guess I could just make more at suppertime but I feel like I’d just keep eating, like one of those awful competitive eaters, expecting a prize at the end.

Not care what I eat. Man, I wish I could do this. The Doc appreciates my cooking, which is lovely, but he could also just as easily eat a frozen dinner, a plate of beans, a slice of bread, a piece of string. He’s the rare bird that just eats because he’s hungry and doesn’t recognize the truly enjoyable experience of eating really good food. Consequently, he has no guilt about what he eats or whether or not he gains weight (though he doesn’t). That’s the way to go. Also, he’s great to live with because if there are chips in the house, they’ll usually stay in the house until I eat all of them.

These are all very first world problems. I’m lucky to go to a grocery store, or eat at a restaurant, and get whatever I want in unlimited quantities. It’s only good genes and being raised by health-conscious parents that keeps me from tipping the scales. Plus, I know age is only going to make me gain weight faster and restrict food further, so why am I kvetching now?

In elementary school, we had Pizza Day. I don’t know if that’s still a thing, but I remember regarding them as akin to days off from school entirely. “I don’t have to pay attention in class today, it’s Pizza Day!” As if all of our activities would somehow be pizza-related. Now, of course, all food decisions are stupidly fraught, and tied to all kinds of feelings of either superiority (“Just a salad”) or shame (“Can I get a side of mayo with the fries?”). But all I’m really serving up is a helping of gluttonous vanity, which is the first thing I have to shed before stepping on the scale. But now I have to go. Pizza’s here.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Get 'Er Done...

Hello Friends.

When I worked as a cashier at a drugstore, a position I held for longer than I’d like to admit, it fell to me to restock the candy aisle. Because of the candy aisle’s close proximity to the cash register, cashiers were supposed to grab boxes of candy from the stock room, set them up in the aisle, and replenish or rotate bags of licorice, chocolate bars, bags of chips, and Bridge Mixture, which is only a suitable candy if you hope to put the recipient to death. Years on from that job, I can say now, with no fear of reprisal, that I never, ever restocked the candy aisle. It wasn’t a difficult task, but it was something so tedious and self-defeating that I would rather stare into space, doodle on register paper, count money in the till, or staple my fingers together than actually do it.

In maybe the best book I’ve ever read, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, a middle-aged woman takes a job in a grocery store after her husband walks out on her and her children. Every shift she works, she leaves her hat on suggesting, she hopes, that she just popped in to help out, not that she actually worked there. This is not what the book is about, by the way, it’s a riveting character study about generations of a family, but the fact that Pearl leaves her hat on always returns to me, because it reflects how I often felt as a cashier. “This is just my job, I’m not working here.” That’s a shitty and elitist attitude, to be sure, but it helps explain why I couldn’t and wouldn’t stock the candy aisle. I’ll stand there and help customers, but I’ll be damned if I fill my off time with anything but boredom and self-loathing.
What I don’t understand, however, is why I’m treating more and more things in my life like the damn candy aisle. This blog, for instance, is missing quite a few weekly entries in the last couple of months. A project that I started earnestly with a friend has stalled for no reason. These are things I really believe in, things I wish I had more time to do, but yet when I have time, I don’t do them! What’s the deal, here?

Dream: Be more productive.

Goal: Achievable. Beating myself up doesn’t accomplish anything, but a public record of one’s own laziness can occasionally be a motivator. Maybe proclaiming my uselessness publicly will get me working again.
Plan: Take the advice we give people about work and tailor it specifically to motivate me. For instance:

Find out what you love to do, and get paid for it. Everybody tosses this ice cube into your soup, but I’m afraid I have to call bullshit on it. I’m thrilled to be getting paid to write every day, but writing is hard fucking work (not as compared to coal mining, parenting, surgery, prison guard, janitor, but you get my meaning). Writing is not something I love to do. I love sleeping, eating bad food, and having sex. Who is going to pay me for those things? Besides, find out what you love to do and get paid for it is a very white, upper-middle class conceit that many of us were lucky to grow up with and take advantage of. But a lot of people pump gas for a living their whole lives, or work in a factory, or make ends meet by any and all means, and I think they’d chafe at being told to just “do what you love.” I think we ought to change the expression to, “Find out what you’re good at and get paid for it.” I’m good at writing, and I’m also really good at running a cash register (in spite of what you might have read earlier). Obviously I’d pick the former over the later for a career path, but both jobs keep the bills paid, so I’d be stupid to never take a retail job again in desperate times just because I didn’t “love” it.

Don’t compare yourself to others. I hear this in regards to creative people, especially. Yes, realizing that so-and-so is doing better than you doesn’t make your situation any better, but it doesn’t make the fact any less true. When I hear that a contemporary (by which I mean someone around my age) is doing better than I am, I bitch and moan, sure, but it lights a fire under my ass. If I didn’t compare myself to others, I might avoid reading the writing that my friends do, and I might hinder my own development by not “borrowing” whatever I can from them. I don’t mean that I steal ideas from others, exactly, but that I’d only be hurting myself by not using their best techniques. For instance, I know of a writer I really respect who decided to stop using anything but “said” when referencing what a person said. In other words, she might write:

“You don’t love me!” Bill said.
But she wouldn’t write: 

“You don’t love me!” Bill cried.

She believes that what a person says should be enough for the reader to make their own determination. If she writes, “Bill cried” instead of “Bill said”, she’s telling us how Bill feels, instead of having Bill reveal his feelings through further dialogue or action. Isn’t that badass? If I stopped seeing my own work compared to this woman’s efforts, if I wasn’t jealous of her abilities, I’d stop evolving as a creative person. What’s the point?

You have to believe it to achieve it, and similar. I hope this one is true, but the trouble with advice like this is that it always comes from someone comfortably ensconced on the other side of what you define as “success.” Motivational speakers who failed at their professions don’t get hired on the lecture circuit, and nobody asks a failure, “How did you do it?!” But people who are successful offer platitudes like, “You are the only thing standing in your way” and, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” Does it? A positive outlook is important, sure, you’re more motivated and pleasanter to be around, but I know many of people who believe in themselves that might not see the return on their investment that they are hoping for. I’m lucky to be friends with all kinds of creative types continuing to plug away in saturated fields, many of whom seeming to equate fame with success. Fame is not success, but recognition doesn’t hurt if you’re trying to book stand-up gigs, land auditions, get published.
I’m from a generation that believes everyone deserves a trophy, but I’m also of a collective age group in a terrible economy and job market. Reconciling the two suggests spending less time blogging and more time filling the candy aisle. At the moment, though, I know what’s truly hindering my creative endeavors is plain old laziness and fear. The projects that don’t guarantee any return in the form of money or opportunity can feel like distractions. The ambitious longshot that is an unsolicited manuscript, unproduced webseries, unfunded theatre company might not work out, but there’s no chance at all if it’s not attempted in the first place. If I stopped blogging, for instance, or playwriting, or undertaking fun possibilities so that I might leave my work email open for a few extra hours a week, what kind of return on investment is that? Creative paycheques might be limited, but creative possibilities are endless. I hope I can find that balance between doing what I’m good at, doing what pays the bills, and doing what I love so that I can grab and sample everything I want, feasting on the endless options before me, like a kid let loose in the candy aisle.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Funny Guy...

Hello Friends.

Robin Williams is an exercise. Depending on the quality of the project and my mood as a viewer, he hit somewhere between exhilarating and exhausting. There's something in the frenetic plate-spinning, the rapid fire impressions, the tossed off references that is manic. One can go along for the ride, or just see the sweat and the arm hair. Alternatively, a dialed down Robin Williams can be captivating in his stillness, or maudlin in his winking, bearded softness. More often than not, he was the gut-busting comedian and the heart-stopping dramatic actor, but there were some clunkers in the bunch. How could there not be? Thanks to his versatility, every film could benefit from some Robin Williams, which meant he was sought-over, which meant he took on a lot, which meant not every project could be great.

I wonder why he worked so hard. Why he accepted thankless roles as the hapless priest, or the cartoon penguin, or President Eisenhower. A Robin Williams cameo immediately elevates a movie, I'm sure a nice cheque always cleared, but couldn't he wait until the next Birdcage? Good Will Hunting? Aladdin?

I've been reading a lot of tributes which posit that Robin Williams got from an audience the kind of happiness and peace that he couldn't find in his own life. That may be true to some degree, but seems like a really simplified explanation. If all Robin Williams needed was an appreciative audience, he could find one at any comedy club in the world. He had dozens of great films, great reviews, great box office returns, more than any one performer could ever expect to receive in his lifetime. The vague and sinister, "He had his demons" lends credence to the notion that depression is some kind of mystical, ethereal condition that we can't understand. You would never say of a person with cancer, for instance, that they had demons. Yet for so many people, depression and addiction still sit in this weird grey area between a disease and a state of mind. People chafe at comparisons to physical illness saying, "You can decide to pour another drink, you can decide to self-harm, you can't decide to be diagnosed with Parkinson's" (just an example). I know that's a horrible sentiment, but it's one I used to believe for a long time, until I started learning things about depression. I just don't know enough.

Dream: Understand depression.

Goal: Achievable, with caveats. The more I learn and talk to people, the more I can understand, but as someone who doesn't suffer from depression, addiction, or mental illness myself, I'm hesitant to say that I can truly understand it. I know people who deal with those issues, friends and family, loved ones to acquaintances, but it has not been my personal experience. To put it another way, I can read about what it's like to belong to another race, or to have a disability, or to suffer from ALS, but if I'm not another race, able-bodied, and not diagnosed with ALS, I can't claim to truly understand what it's like.

Plan: I'm the type that has to talk through everything to make sense of it. I don't know what kind of learner that makes me (a slow learner?), but I think I'll derive some benefit from just blathering for awhile. An important caveat to these musings is that I'm truly just feeling my way and it's not my intention to offend anyone. I don't know a great deal about all the nuances of depression, but I know it's serious and it affects a lot of people. With that in mind, all I'm trying to do is be sensitive here. If ill-informed talk from a dope will only engage triggers for you and make you more upset, please don't read any more of this today. I don't want to upset anybody, really and truly. Keeping that in mind, here's what I know (or think I know) about depression.

Depression is not sadness. Can we come up with a different name for depression? Unfortunately, it is a serious condition that shares its name with an abstract feeling that we all suffer from. I can be depressed when my weekend plans get cancelled, but I'm not suffering from depression. From what I understand, depression is the absence of any feelings, good, bad, or otherwise. If depression had another name, like bindlestar or shoobaloo, we'd stop associating it with a sullen teen listening to records alone in her bedroom. We should start by changing the name.

I think the unfortunate trend that is related to the equating of depression and sadness is that people who are sad but do "cheer up" and "snap out of it" and all of those things we wrongfully advise truly depressed people to do, those people think they suffer from depression. You don't, sad people! You're just mopey! I wouldn't presume to know someone else's life, but it really chaps my ass when people that I don't think truly suffer from depression post (but again I don't know) post sullen, passive aggressive Facebook messages looking to illicit tea and sympathy. I'd venture to guess that truly depressed people don't do that in the throes of their illness. The vague status that reads, "sigh... i guess it's another sad day... what is my life right now?... ugh :'( " really bothers me because I don't think people that truly think that post it. Maybe I'm wrong here, but again, the people I know personally who suffer from depression don't whine on Facebook. If anything, they work so hard to hide, rather than reveal their struggle, that you'd never guess something was amiss based on a social media account.

Some addicts suffer from depression. Some people with depression are not addicts. Are some addicts not also depressed? I don't know. It seems to me depression and addiction get lumped together, but can you have one without the other? I know some people who suffer from depression who don't appear to be battling an addictive tendency in turn. I couldn't say if there are addicts who are not also depressed. But if addiction is linked to depression, shouldn't that be in all the literature? Wouldn't that help treatment and recovery?

Depression is a mental illness, but mental illness is not necessarily depression. Taking the "mental" away from "mental illness" shows one how broad the term really is. Obsessive compulsive disorder is not the same as schizophrenia is not the same as PTSD. It's helpful to have dialogue about all of these things, but maybe it's dangerous to lump them together.

Here's the bit I don't understand and I wish I did but I don't. I get that depression is no different from a physical illness in terms of the effects it can have on a person. I get that depression can't be snapped out of. But then I don't understand why people say, "If you're feeling this way, call this hotline", or "There's always help, tell someone now", etc. If someone has reached the point of suicide, how is a stranger over the phone able to help them? How does the person about to attempt suicide not know, at least intellectually, that people love and care for them? And if they really don't believe that's true, how can a stranger on the telephone convince them of that? I'm genuinely asking, I'm not trying to be judgmental. What is the phone call that keeps the suicidal person from going through with it? Is that like defibrillator panels, briefly jolting someone back to life, but not restoring them to total health? Is it like CPR, suddenly clearing a blocked airway? How does a person at the end of their tether recognize that a stranger on the phone could save them, but not see that the people in their lives would want to prevent this more than anything else in the world? Do they really forget that they are loved? How do you do that?

If I hope to change one thing about myself, it's that I wish I could rid myself of the twinge I feel in the pit of my guts when I find out that someone suffers from depression. It's wholly unfair, but there's a part of me that immediately thinks, "That's someone I could lose one day" and it makes me terribly sad. But if depression is just like a physical illness there is treatment, there are options, there is living with depression just like someone is able to live with diabetes. The cruel fact of life is that any of us could lose any loved one at any time. The point is to let people you love know that you love them right now, and I hope I do that, even if I'm sweaty and provincial and can't actually say it say it, but you know it's true.

I don't know what my favourite Robin Williams moment on film is, but the one I'm thinking of right now is in Hook. He and the Lost Boys sit down to eat, and the table is bare. Robin, as Peter, sees nothing before him. Then someone says, "Use your imagination, Peter!" and he opens his eyes and suddenly there's an unimaginable feast. They all dig in, savoring every delicious bite of it, and everyone has just what he wanted.