Friday, 30 January 2015


Hello Friends.

I had a sick day this week, but it was one of those lucky sick days where, though I was indeed feeling poorly from a cold, I wasn’t throwing up, or in terrible pain, and so got to appreciate the naughtiness of a midweek day off. I stayed in my jams and watched TV, read a book I’d been meaning to tackle, and generally lazed about, coughing intermittently.

It reminded me of a fabled day in my 13th year, a story I’ve surely told before. About ten minutes into the school day, the principal walks in, takes the teacher aside, then speaks to us. I guess a water main had broken in the basement and they were about to lose heat to the building and the upshot was that every student got to go home right then. I don’t remember exactly how I filled that day, except that it was unremarkable. I probably did just as I did earlier this week (watched TV, dozed off, etc.). Around that same time, my best pal Ryan skipped the elementary school track meet to go home and eat mini-donuts. We were truly living our dreams in those days.

On the night of my sick day, as I drifted off in a Nyquil haze, it struck me that I had spent a perfect bonus day, the kind I would have relished as a 13 year old, and I hoped that I fully appreciated it. Here’s hoping that advances in technology will allow me to communicate just that.

Dream: Get a message to 13 year old James.

Goal: Not achievable yet. Here’s the bummer about time travel: either it never gets invented, because no one from the past or future has come to visit us, or it has been invented, but we live in such a boring, shitty present day as compared to the glorious future, that nobody thinks to return to 2015 and let us know what’s up. That said, in case they do perfect the technology, I want to have crib notes for when I talk to a young James.

Plan: Write a letter to my 13 year old self.

Dear 13 Year Old James,

It feels weird now to qualify your existence based on your age, but our youth was all about that, wasn’t it? “Am I teenager yet? Am I cool yet? When does growing up happen?” 13 year old James, I’m sorry to tell you, but age matters less and less, at least to 31 year old me/you. As much as I’d like the directive, “Do this because I’m telling you to because I’m 31!” to hold weight, it just doesn’t. Nobody cares how old I am. The good side of this situation is that nobody cares how old I am, and so I have friends of all ages and it’s not weird.

Anyway, the main thrust of what I want to say to you is, it’s gonna work out. Whatever you’re worried about, stop worrying because I can’t remember it, this many years later, so how important could it have been? I think the luckiest people are those of us whose worries don’t transcend their circumstances. That is to say, you’re worried about grade 7 or 8 now because that’s where you are. You’ll worry about this job or that relationship because that’s where you’ll be at the time. But thankfully, you are/I am blessed enough that the worries seldom outlast their environment, so chill out. There will be peaks and valleys in the next 18 years, but nothing insurmountable. Enjoy the ride.

You’re not gonna get much fatter or skinnier. Okay, you’ll get a little fatter. Not a lot, though. Relax.

I know you’re SO WORRIED about being gay and having sex, but you’re gonna be and have both and it’s FUN!

You’re spending a lot of time cultivating tastes in music, movies, books, but that’s all going to change, as well it should. Get all you can out of those first two Spice Girls CDs because they’re done after this.

I know your parents bugged you about quitting piano and how you’re going to regret it someday, but so far you haven’t regretted it for a goddamn minute. You know what’s better than practicing piano? Almost everything.

Learn to cook now. It will take you too long to learn too many basics and you’ll eat too much garbage food. That’s why you’re going to get a little fatter.

Try to temper your teenage feelings of self-importance and guilt. You’re neither as good nor as bad as you think you are. You’re just a guy.

Spend time with your grandparents, and try to visit more. They miss you now, you’ll miss them later.

Keep your youthful fear of drugs. It keeps you off of them, and tempers your early alcohol consumption, so you are thankfully, blessedly, dependent on neither.

People are going to tell you, or you’re going to glean from pop culture, to savor these moments, these are the best years of your life. This is a fallacy because you can’t nostalgically appreciate the present time. And the good news is, there are better years to come, and better still for 31 year old you/me, I’m confident!

Memory helps us recall the circumstances of a particular time, but not always what we felt. Though nothing bad happens to you/me, I wouldn’t go back to our teenage years for a million bucks. The prevailing feeling was uncertainty. We bought into the idea of the significance of adolescence and took ourselves SO SERIOUSLY as a result. In so many ways, it’s just a deeper voice and more hair.

I don’t know more about life now than I did then, except to say that the view from here is pretty sweet. You don’t get everything you wanted, but you have everything you need.


Old James

An important programming note: Regular readers will notice I’ve fallen off regular updates terribly, and I don’t know yet what I’m going to do about it. I don’t want to stop blogging, but I don’t want to update for no reason either. Please be patient with me while I figure out the best way to keep Big City James going without repeating myself. I’m not going away, but I may not return as regularly as usual. It's all gonna work out. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Confirmed Bachelor...

Hello Friends.

I’m pretty sure genocides have happened because bored coworkers have nothing to do on a free weekday evening. How else to explain how I recently came to view, understand, appreciate, and become obsessed by The Bachelor?

Let me clarify up front that I’ve only seen the first two episodes of this season, and those under very particular circumstances. Much of it was fast-forwarded, and all of it was derided and joked about with my esteemed coworkers, one of whom was particularly insistent that we enjoy this experience together. We all had to pick potential winners off the first episode, and roundly mock everything that came out of everybody’s mouth (something I am very good at).

The Bachelor is somehow nothing like I thought it would be and exactly like I thought it would be. I knew the Bachelor and the women would all be stupid, but I wasn’t prepared for how unapologetically stupid they would be. For instance, I expected a Miss America-type background for the competing ladies. Something like, “Karen is a Marine Biologist who works with underprivileged kids and plays the cello.” Instead it’s like, “Daisy is a Sports Fishing Enthusiast.” I’m not making that up, “Sports Fishing Enthusiast” was come contestant’s byline, where a job should have been. Secondly, they all seem to know they are competing for each other, yet are consistently surprised by any competition. Last week, some woman sobbed, “I can’t believe he kissed that other girl! I feel like he’s my boyfriend.” What kind of show is that, doll? He’s been given a buffet, but shouldn’t sample? Plus, are you aware of how many hours of television need to be filled here? He picks you day one, what does ABC put on Monday nights?

This brings me to the Bachelor himself, who is a professional-grade lunkhead. He feels so privileged to be the Bachelor on The Bachelor, and affects the appropriate “aw shucks” demeanor when ladies throw themselves at him, but he also has trouble with long sentences. Like speaking them. He trails off towards the end and it’s like watching an old car sputter and die. “And that’s why I’m really excited because… I think.. I. Will. Find. A. Wife.”

Funnily enough, though all the women are supposed to come with an interesting angle, or memorable hook to entice the Bachelor and (presumably) keep the audience interested, Chris is under no pressure to develop or demonstrate a personality. He smiles genially at everything and occasionally takes a deep breath, like he’s pretending to think. The ladies have gotten drunk, gotten angry, cried, been sexually inappropriate, and he just grins like an idiot.

The host is another Chris, and he seems to know exactly how good he has it. He walks into a room, says, “Ladies. It is time for the Bachelor to make his choice.” Then he goes and smokes cigarettes for an hour or whatever. He has the perfect amount of investment in the proceedings. He alludes vaguely to the fact that stuff is happening, but tips no hand regarding who he himself prefers. In fact, I hear he’s being joined by Jimmy Kimmel this season which makes sense. Regardless of the obvious cross-promotion between a prime time and a late night show on the same channel, Kimmel’s always struck me as a pretty solid emcee. I don’t find him particularly funny in his own right, but he segues between jokes, guests, and commercials like an old school broadcaster.

In many ways, I think The Bachelor is old school as well. It’s a tarted-up Dating Game, with the suggestion that the relationship will last beyond the time the cameras stop rolling (but will it?) crossed with beauty contests and Queen For a Day. Sexist, antiquated, and mindless it may be, The Bachelor is an old dog with a new trick, unless something comes along to shake things up.

Dream: Be a contestant on The Bachelor.

Goal: Achievable. I don’t want to be the Bachelor himself, and I don’t want to be one of the dudes up for grabs on The Bachelorette. I want a limo to pull up on that first night, when the Bachelor meets all the hot ladies, and then I come strutting out in my finest cargo shorts.

Plan: Bro down.

It would generate an enormous amount of publicity if it was announced that a lone male contestant would be competing alongside the ladies to be chosen by the Bachelor. Does this mean the Bachelor is gay, or bisexual? Not necessarily, but it would attract the attention and speculation of both communities.

I would present myself the way I hope I come across in really life. Friendly, and gay, but not flamboyantly so. But I would add cool touches like a skateboard and the catchphrase, “Bro down throwdown!” Then I’d tackle the Bachelor and we’d wrestle playfully and people would be like, “What the fuck is going on?”

I would represent two special interests simultaneously. I’d be playing for the gay guys with crushes on straight men who believe they can “change him”, and I’d represent the bromance contingent that seems to dominate so many movies of late. The overgrown manchild who picks “bros before hos” and would much rather hang out with dudes than get a steady lady.

On me and the Bachelor’s “alone time”, we would shoot the breeze and drink beer and talk shit about the other ladies. During my time with the ladies, I would completely ingratiate myself. Not to generalize wildly about your typical Bachelor contestant, but these gals seem like the type for whom a gay male friend is a status symbol or cute accessory. I met a really pretty blonde woman at a party once and when she found out I knew the host of the party through my boyfriend, she screeched, “You’re gay?! We should totally go shopping together!” Within seconds of meeting me, she said this. I’m not suggesting the women competing on The Bachelor aren’t smart enough to realize that gay guys are as diverse within that group as they are outside of it, but actually that’s exactly what I’m suggesting.

I would become a viewer favourite, and so far I’m convinced that viewer favourites are given roses and kept around thanks to strong suggestions to the Bachelor from the show’s producers. My coworker said, for instance, that a crazy woman will make it very, very far because she’s interesting, and that the Bachelor will never kick off a visible minority in the first few weeks lest he, and by extension the show, be accused of racism (although a whiter show you’ll never come across). Sure enough, in the two episodes I watched, he put through a crazy drunk, and a boring African American woman, in spite of not knowing much about either.

As to my intentions, I just want to be on television instead of watching it because fun. And for the record, I don’t think even the most charming charmer can turn a straight guy gay, but that stupid people or narcissists (the Bachelor fits snugly in categories A and B) might be convinced to make out with you for a bit. I would have to work very hard to convince poor Dr. Jon to give me a pass to openly flirt with another man on national television, but I feel like, if I explain the premise of my participation in the same way I’ve just explained it to you, he will see that, by objecting, he is standing in the way of my Dreams and also letting down the Bachelor’s loyal viewers.

There are troubling issues at play with a show like The Bachelor that I can’t even begin to contemplate. Why do we watch women (and men) degrade themselves in this way? Is sexuality such a commodity that it can be bought or manufactured for the right price? Do farmers really look like that? I know I’m doing a disservice to my feminist ideals and my brain by watching every week, but my coworker’s making spaghetti tonight for us to eat while we watch it! I don’t know how much our society values love and marriage anymore, but I will go to war and fight and die for my right to eat spaghetti and laugh with my friends. To put it another way, from week to week, I will always accept this rose.

Friday, 2 January 2015

The Untouchable...

Hello Friends.

I tend to book a window seat in the last row when I check in for a flight. WestJet lets you check in 24 hours before you fly, and I like to get as close to that 24 hour mark as possible to book what I slyly figure is a spot undesirable enough that it will keep others from selecting the seat beside me. This tactic often works, but didn’t last Sunday when I flew back to Edmonton after a lovely weeklong trip to see family.

There was a woman sitting in the seat beside mine who had that same, “Please don’t sit here, please don’t sit here” face I adopt when I’m watching others board. She gamely got up to let me sit down and we studiously ignored each other for the entire flight. She was a big person, broad and overweight, and she didn’t fit very comfortably into her seat. At 6’1”, neither did I. Those seats are built for no one’s body, and our bodies touched the entire flight. It’s an odd sensation, being hip to hip to a stranger for two hours, but we were, and maybe that’s why we couldn’t comfortably talk to each other. I couldn’t be mad at this woman, for whom flying has to be an uncomfortable experience, but on the other hand, maybe she flies all the time and doesn’t think anything of it. Had it been an international flight spanning several hours, maybe our mutual discomfort would have made us tense and irritable, but as it was, I was fine with this forced snuggle.

Dr. Jon was waiting to board a flight earlier this year where he saw parents waiting at the gate with two young children. The girl was being cute and dancing and twirling, and Dad completely ignored her. At one point, she went in to give her grumpy father a hug and kiss and he shooed her away because he was doing something on his iPad. I know travelling with kids must be awful, but Jesus Christ, hug and kiss your damn kid!

I bring up these two stories of flight because they illustrate how resistant we are to touching each other, even among loved ones. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions (mostly because what is this blog if not that), but if there was something I’d want to pay more attention to in 2015, it’s this.

Dream: Touch more people.

Goal: Achievable, I guess. I know it sounds so creepy to say that I want to be in more physical contact with people, but it’s true. I noticed over the holidays that I’ve grown rusty when it comes to my hugging, if such a thing is possible. I’m all chin and shoulders somehow. Plus, I’m constantly paranoid that I smell bad, or that the person I’m hugging doesn’t want to be hugged and I’m torturing them with my spindly arms and pizza gut. I read this article once that said you’re not supposed to hug and kiss children that aren’t yours without asking permission of them, because you “rob children of agency over their own bodies.” I guess I can see that, but if I can’t squeeze the squirmy little lovebugs of friends of mine without getting everyone to sign a notarized document, that’s a real drag.

Plan: Touch more people.

This is one of those problems where the answer is inherent to the question. If I want to have more physical contact with people, I’ll just become a more touchy-feely guy. But how does one do that?

I could be in a play. I haven’t done any acting in a while, and while I’m pleased to be on the writing side of things for now, and I certainly don’t miss auditioning, I do much the insane amount of physical closeness that seems part of the process of making theatre. I went through a four year acting program and, while I didn’t have sex with any of my classmates, I can’t believe I didn’t graduate with an STD. Everyone’s always hugging and kissing, onstage and off. Or adjusting eachother’s bodies to optimum posture, or feeling someone’s diaphragm to ensure the right kind of breathing. Or you’re building human pyramids in some fruitless exercise, or starting classes with massage chains, or pounding on someone’s back while they sing. I didn’t even notice it while it was happening, but now that I’ve got an office job, I probably can’t run my hand up the spine of a coworker to check their alignment without getting a complaint sent to Human Resources.

The most tactile and physically demonstrative person I’ve ever met was in a play with me. I’ll call her Jill in case she reads this and is weirded out by my description of her. I could be misremembering, but I think Jill hugged me warmly the first time we met, and she was like that with everybody. We played a couple in the show, and we would kiss and hug without any initial awkwardness or jitters, but she would also grab my hand impulsively in rehearsals, or sling an arm over whomever she was sitting beside. Again, this wasn’t just me, she was like that with everybody. There was something so warm and friendly about Jill, and everyone was incredibly drawn to her, and I’m sure they continue to be. It wasn’t like she and I were best pals that connected on every level either. We were perfectly nice to each other and chatted backstage and whatnot, but it’s not as if we had a deep abiding love for each other, or a mystical connection that transcended beyond friendship. And yet I will always feel incredibly connected to her because she was so, for lack of a better term, touchy-feely.

I wish I could find it again, but I read a really interesting article recently disparaging the fact that men, and straight men in particular, suffer from such a lack of physical contact, and it’s such a shame. And it’s really true! Not to engage in stereotyping, but women and gay men tend to be physically affectionate with each other and it’s not weird. But straight men must only ever get physical attention from their partners in a sexual context, and that’s about it. I don’t know how that gets fixed. I suppose I have straight male friends that I will hug, but not nearly with the frequency as my female friends. There’s a Friends episode I remember where two of the guys (Joey and Ross, I think?) fall asleep on each other once and realize they have amazing naps together. Of course the situation is played for laughs, and once they are discovered, they stop, but why is that such a problem, culturally?

The other side of this coin, of course, is that I’m a fella and I may not be strong, but I’m tall and imposing. That is to say, no one’s physical presence or attention has ever been a threat to me, ever. I’ve never been hit, or slugged in the gut, and I’ve certainly never been into (or really understood) anything rough or painful when it comes to sex, so touch is always a good experience. A stranger grabbed my ass in a crowded bar once, and all I felt was flattered. I spun around in surprise, but also gratitude, as he vanished into the throng. I wanted to find him and ask for a rating out of ten. So maybe I’m only seeing the good side of physical contact because that’s all I have ever experienced, and asking everyone to be more physically demonstrative is asking too much.

That said, something’s gotta change. I wear headphones at work, and if someone tries to get my attention by placing a hand on my shoulder, I act as if someone’s just fired a gun into the air. I jump three feet and spin around and can’t seem to temper that reaction. I have to get my hug back and I can’t turn into one of those people who genuinely doesn’t like to be touched. I mean, there are some things I can’t abide (don’t ever pat my head, I’ll tear your fucking arms off), but otherwise, let’s walk hand in hand when next we meet, or institute a kiss hello. I won’t think it’s weird if you won’t. I hope to see most of you in 2015, so let’s make a change! Here’s to a Happy New Year, the fun adventures that await us all, and staying in touch.