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.          

Friday, 1 August 2014


Hello Friends.

It's so hot right now. ("How hot is it?"). It's so hot that I am very warm, and I'm sweating a lot, and the sweat pools underneath my supple man bosoms giving me a Rorshag-style inkblot stain that looks like rivers of disappointment. But I'm not complaining! We get so few hot days here that I am reveling every moment. Except when I am trying to sleep.

Dream: Get a good night's sleep in this oppressive heat.

Goal: Unachievable, as evidenced by the fact that I am writing you late on a Thursday night instead of, y'know, sleeping.

Plan: Think of a variety of get to sleep quick schemes that will also help beat the heat, such as:

Turn on the air conditioning. THAT'S WHAT IT SAYS WHEN I GOOGLE 'HOW TO SLEEP IN HEAT'? Really, website? Am I so stupid that it never occurs to me, in the insufferable, sweat-inducing, sun-drenched sauna that is my apartment, to turn the air conditioning on? IF I HAD AIR CONDITIONING OF COURSE I WOULD TURN IT ON! I'd turn it on and Doc would say, "Hey! What are you doing?" And I'd say, "I'm turning on the A/C!" And he'd say, "Are you sure?" And I'd be like, "It was on a website" and he'd be like, "Okay." What kills me is how, even though we don't have air conditioning in our apartment, if we were to buy a portable unit, we'd have to pay our landlords extra to use it. What the hell is that? They don't provide A/C, we buy one for a few hundred bucks, they say, "Pay us an extra sixty bucks a month", and we're like, "Durr, okay!" Did we lose a war? Come on, people, rise up against this nonsense.

Sleep naked. Way ahead of you. Well, actually, I'm not ahead of you. You can't be nakeder than naked. I'm at the same pace as you. Some people were just underwear to bed, which I don't get at all. As a human, the best part of underwear is its removal.

Take hot baths. Is it Blanche Dubois in Streetcar who keeps taking hot baths to stay cool, he wondered faggishly? I think it is. Some lady in a play at any rate. She takes all these hot baths because, the theory goes, you raise your body temperature to higher than it is outside, then when you get out of the bath, the air feels cooler. I'm not exactly sure how that works because I've heard the opposite advice:

Take cold showers. Right? Because cold is cold. My trouble is I'm a Baby Suckpants who can't tolerate a cold shower, at least not if there are heated options available. The Doc takes cold showers when it's hot out, but it's like overhearing someone getting waxed. Every few seconds I hear, "BUGH!" and "WAUGH!" and the occasional, "YIPES!" I can't imagine that lulls one to sleep.

I could take some freezer items into bed with me. Say an ice cube under each armpit and a bag of peas for beneath my scrote (those are my heat zones). But then you wake up to a warm, wet bed and a bunch of disgusting peas.

Fans. Fans are effective some of the time, but I'm convinced you just end up circulating the same hot air you're trying to avoid. Plus, rather than comforting, a fan's hum has the opposite effect. It is droning and buzzing and ruffles up your damn sheets.

Actually, the real cure to a hot night, at least in Edmonton, is time. As I write you now, the sun is completely down and some cool air has begun to blow through my windows. Time to, if not curl up, sprawl disgustingly and hope that these hot days go on forever. I might sleep soundly, I might toss and turn, but for now I'll just sweat it out.

Friday afternoon edit to ruin my closing line: It worked! I'm well-rested! Was too sleepy to post last night, so here it is now. FROM THE FUTURE!