Proving that yes, it is possible to feel this way dressed in a Snorlax kigurumi.

December and January were big months for activity. Holidays meant parties and festivities oozing out of every spare evening. Food and drink revolved around the “use sparingly” portion of the food pyramid. Consequently joy was everywhere. It was a great time to alive, to celebrate and surround yourself with loved ones both romantic and platonic. I did. Oh, did I ever? Yes. OH yes.

February on the other hand has heralded a crash back down to terra firma for me. I’ve cut alcohol in an attempt to reorder my food pyramid and in general let my body breathe. I’m not getting preachy, you do you. I’m just here doing me. I’ve done the teetotaller thing before many times and it’s very doable. In all honesty though, it’s never fun. In some cases the downward trend of “never fun” keeps drilling down until my mood feels six feet under. If I’m not careful I get riddled with all sorts of self-loathing, negativity and withdraw into myself. Is it just a subconscious attempt to keep the URL of this page relevant? My inner social media specialist slamming putting the brand awareness pedal to the floor?

Example time.

I had a party to go to last night. A house warming party of some good friends. The kind of place crammed wall to wall with the kind of people I love being around. Neither my girlfriend nor I were drinking, but that’s fine. I’m a social guy and I like shooting the shit with friends or strangers. I got there and glommed onto some friends I hadn’t seen in a while. There was a truth or dare-ish game going on in the lounge, but I kept my distance. There’s nothing wrong with the game, but it’s not something I can handle sober. Truth or dare grabs all of my insecurities tied to self-confidence and cranks them up to 11. I feel like I have to perform in a certain fashion and no matter how I do I always feel a kind of tension, as if people are waiting for me to fuck up so they can laugh at rather than with me. If anything flirtatious comes up, I withdraw or deflect. It brings me right back to my teenage years of feeling unwanted and clumsy. Playing the fool to compensate for the fact that nobody had any real romantic or sexual interest. I mean, it’s easy to see how much of it was self-fulfilling prophecy. I didn’t see myself as an entity deserving of desire, so I acted in a congruent manner. If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t let anyone else either. I wish that I could say all of that has vanished into the path and I’ve owned feelings of self-worth and sexual capital, but I prefer honesty. At the age of 29, I can handle this kind of thing with tipsy relaxation. Last night though? I stayed away, my girlfriend jumped in and I kept to the fringes of the room seeking quiet conversation.

The place was crowded, it was noisy and I was having trouble concentrating. Without alcohol to dull my senses, I was listening to multiple conversations simultaneously, which left me paralytic. It was an effort to string together coherent sentences and everything I said felt stupid or lame. I couldn’t keep up with friends on that amped wavelength whose attention spans spurned conversations longer than several minutes. I felt so small and my body language reflected this. I now see that I continually sought out tiny spaces to cram myself into. The corner of a kitchen bench, the small alcove in front of the rubbish bin next to the filing cabinet, the railing next to the stairs. Places that would give me a wide outlook so I could prepare for anyone entering my personal space. It was a subconscious defensive move and I didn’t realise what I was doing until I’d left.

The front of the room got rowdier as the game picked up. Lots of nudity, body shots, flirtatious behaviour. I’m not shitting on anything that happened, it was all in good fun. In my state at the time though, it only served to make me feel more alienated, distanced. A mixture of jealousy and helplessness at my inability to let go and relax, to have fun in a space intended for just that purpose. My muscles tightened and I found myself speaking less and less. I was upset, but found myself incapable of saying anything. Something inside of me said it was unfair to make my problems anyone else’s. It wasn’t fair to inhibit anyone’s fun because I was feeling shitty. What right did I have to bring others down with me? Of course I couldn’t act or speak out in a shared public space, this was my issue and I had to solve it. At the time, I didn’t have the wherewithal, so negative thoughts coalesced into a dense, deep mass around my brain. I felt worse and worse, compounded by the overwhelmingly happy crowd surrounding me. If everyone else was fine, what was wrong with me that I couldn’t get on their level?

I needed to leave, but my girlfriend was having a great time. Who was I to get in her way? The happier she was, the more of a divide I felt. Logically, of course she couldn’t have known how I was feeling. Emotion doesn’t play by those same rules though, so instead I felt isolated. The smart thing would’ve been to tap her on the shoulder, to have a word and explain how I was feeling. Instead of using my brain, I stewed in everything and felt deflated, void of anything useful. Instead of making my needs known, I waited for perhaps another hour and a half while I felt utterly miserable. I wanted to either be somewhere else, alone, or just not “be” at all. At some point I couldn’t take any more. I apologised for interrupting my girlfriend’s conversation and quietly told her that I needed to get out of there quickly. I called an Uber and pulled a French exit, incapable of mustering up the fake enthusiasm I’d need for farewells. We got the fuck out of there barely saying a word.

We got home and I unpacked a bunch, describing how and why the night had took a turn. This morning I unpacked a bunch more. She listened, helped me through as much as we could and I felt a little better. In the wake of now though the emptiness has returned. Putting my feelings on a page hasn’t helped. The logical part of my brain knows exactly what happened, but that does little to help. I still feel miserable and no matter what I watch, play or read my mood isn’t shifting. I just want to find whatever light exists at the end of this, which is my mind seeking some kind of escapism. It makes me want to drink, or find an alternate way to get out of my head. I want release that puts me out of myself, that lets me relax and pretend I’m somebody that seems so far from where I’m at. My mind is looking for something to treat the symptoms and forget the disease exists.

You know what? Drinking would work. 100%. I’d find enthusiasm for things outside of myself and actually want to be around people. I’d have a great fucking time and be able to put this shit behind me until it reared its head some time in the future. I’d have to wrest with the recognition that I said I’d do something (not drink for a month) and failed to deliver, but we humans have this amazing ability to justify anything we do if it made us feel better. Hell, drinking would’ve made last night fine, but how am I supposed to feel about that? How do I deal with my inability to connect in an active social space sans liquor? Alcohol is not some fantastic elixir I can use medically. Conversely, stewing in negativity does nothing for me either. I don’t know what to do. I don’t even know how to finish this paragraph. I might as well lean into this resurgence of teen angst and listen to No Children on repeat with the lights off.

If eating an entire tin of peas for dinner doesn’t define bachelor life, I don’t know what does.

I may well be addicted to computers. After spending 8 hours at work today tap tap tapping away at the keyboard, I came home only to turn on my home desktop. After a clunky start it began to install a new Windows update. 10 minutes later it’d completed five out of 126 processes. Fuck. What the hell was I gonna do if not for a computer? Surely I, a grown fellow, would know how to entertain myself without the aid of a computer. Of course I could just resort to my cellphone, but that was basically admitting defeat. I can’t say I didn’t always have a computer, because I did. Back in the day our family rocked the old IBM compatible. We’d play Street Fighter, Scorched Earth, Treasure Math Storm. Not today. Today I was determined to find leisure outside the frame of a computer monitor. I racked my brain for fun things to do that didn’t involve a hard drive. I think I blew a gasket.

So instead of leisure, I just started a bunch of tasks. Turns out that when I’m without entertainment I get shit done instead. I tossed Dark Side of the Moon onto the turntable and started prepping a late lunch. While my marmite, tomato and cheese toast grilled in the oven I grabbed a stack of dirty clothes and chucked them in the washing machine. I folded a neglected pile of washing and sorted it into little stacks while chomping away on my lunch, gooey gouda stretching between my lips and the plate. Gazing upon the folded stacks of clothing with pride, I remembered the wobbly chair lying over the other side of the table. I pulled out an Allen key and fixed it up, then went around the table to tune each chair. My computer had only installed 25 of 126 files, so I still had time to kill.

I took the washing back and opened my drawers. My mind flickered back to that “filing system” for shirts. While I was skewing Martha Stewart, why not go the whole nine yards? The shirts were such a success, I figured I’d get to my underwear/socks too. As boring as this is to read, I was transfixed on getting stuff done. I’d kind of forgotten that procrastination was my M.O. and actually started loving it. I was hungry for more to do, so I dove into my closet to replace all my old wire hangers with hardier plastic ones. Upon finishing, I noticed the spot where I’d gotten a splinter caught in my finger and sought to dig out the detritus (one tiny little black dot). I fetched my sewing kit and sterilised a needle, then poked around a bunch. Success. I washed up from lunch and surveyed everything the light touched. My domain was glistening with promise.

Domestic, menial and banal as the afternoon was, goddamn I felt strangely accomplished. The affirmation that I can actually survive on my own isn’t a new revelation, but something about sorting my shit out in a big burst was a kind of rush. I’m independent. Shoes on my feet, I bought ’em. I depend on me. I can not only not die without intervention, but thrive. I don’t need others to help me on my way, I’m my own man who marches to the beat of my own drum.

Which is as good a time as any to announce that my girlfriend is moving in. Glad I clocked bachelorism first.

I guess you could say he’s having a… Bega’s Banquet.

If I don’t start this now, I will not sleep tonight. Social media has gotten too efficient at stealing our attention and I don’t know if I’m smart or strong-willed enough to pull myself away from it any more. Facebook now works like Twitter, in that it’ll drop a little notification at the top of your news feed that new posts have arrived. It’s not as addictive as those little red numbered notifications, but it works goddamit. Without exaggeration I could say that I’d check my Facebook 50+ times during my workday. That’s solely between the hours of 9am-6pm or so. That’s ridiculous and in every case unnecessary. Still, who am I to outwit those nefariously intelligent folks under Zuckerberg’s rule? It’s a losing game and not playing doesn’t even help you win. You just feel out of touch with the rest of your generation. Fuck it, I’m going off road. What happened outside of online life. What do they call that again? IRL? Reality? Or is it just The Matrix? Does that make social media another layer of The Matrix inside of The Matrix? OH SHIT. I’M IN TOO DEEP. PULL OUT, PULL OUT.

Heh, innuendo.

Due to circumstances outside of my control, I left the house this morning committing major fashion crime. I think. I don’t have a firm enough grip on the laws to know for certain if I was breaking them, but I have my suspicions. Mustard coloured jeans down the bottom and a pale yellow T-shirt. Yellow on yellow. Please officer, it’s not my fault, honestly. I stayed over at my girlfriend’s house without packing prior supplies. It was only configuration of clean clothes I had. Wasn’t my embarrassment enough? I wouldn’t think about it while I was working, then as soon as I caught my reflection (and considering our elevators are 70% mirrors) it all came coming back. I felt self-conscious, but in a silly way. It was hard to stay truly mortified, I looked like a fucking Carebear. It was comical, but living in Canada people were too polite to give me shit to my face. If that’s not a saving grace, I don’t know what is. Then I got home to escape the frosty minus 15 degree temperatures and got straight into my tiger onesie. I still looked cuddly as shit, but at least I had agency in this decision.

My mind was scattered to the four winds of fuckery today. Maybe blame it on the coffee. When you’re drinking coffee out of boredom, that’s never a harbinger of good omens. My distractibility rose in accordance with my caffeination (do either of those two polysyllabic words actually exist?). This may well be why I got so trapped in the irresistibly sticky web of social media. At some point I heard the words “the trumpet” and couldn’t get Lou Bega’s Mambo No. 5 out of my head. Then I checked to see if Lou Bega had any other big hits. I don’t know if I Got A Girl qualifies, given that it’s essentially just a rearrangement of his prior hit. I wonder though, does this song mean Lou Bega is polyamorous? He either has 15+ girlfriends, or a girlfriend who travels effortlessly within the physical realm. He has paramours both international and interplanetary. No wonder he hasn’t had a hit in years, he has way too many partners to do anything productive. His Google calendar must be insane. How does he even have time for his partners with all those notifications to deal with?

Do I give it two thumbs up or an index finger up?

Toronto is a hell of a busy city. No, it’s not New York, but most weekends have me ruing my lack of a time turner. There’s always an overabundance of activities that brings with it a special kind of anxiety. One event that surprisingly hasn’t driven my anxiety meter straight up is possibly my favourite: Tell Me Something Good.

The concept is simple: once a month strangers stand at the front of a crowded bar and regale the crowd with tales of sexual escapades. Whether victories or gaffes, moments of discovery, pride or embarrassment, they’re all thrown to the mercy of the peanut gallery. Mercy is the operative word, because I’ve never been in such a warm, receptive room. The prevailing mentality of “don’t be a dick” stands tall and envelops the bar in a warm embrace. Cultivating such a safe space engenders a special kind of honesty in participants.

It’s telling that even first time storytellers (wait, ESPECIALLY first time storytellers) feel comfortable enough to throw out some outrageously left field experiences. Seriously, a woman meekly took the stage to describe a first date with an internet hook up, in which she wanted to spice things up. Things veered sharply when she mentioned plunging her index finger into her pussy and coating her lips in her juices. Or the time that shy girl told the tale of her post coital subway ride home where she met up with a coworker who kept giving her funny looks. She got home only to realise she’d never wiped her partner’s cumshot off her face. It’s an event that elicits howls of laugher, audible sympathy and even visible tears. Showcasing an array of humanity in the quest for warmth, passion or simple fun never fails to entertain.

I say this, because last night Tell Me Something Good hosted its second anniversary celebration. There’s a special place in my heart reserved for this event, because it’s become a cornerstone of my life here in Toronto. I happened to be the first guest at their first event and I’ve made a habit of coming back regularly. I haven’t been every month. Even on the months I’ve attended, I haven’t necessarily always told a story. Over time though, I have noticed changes in myself. Each time I take the stage I’ve become more confident. A better performer. Now, I was a theatre kid in high school, I’m no stranger to public performance. Having a receptive crowd though has done wonders for my comfort. The more comfortable I’ve been, the better I perform. It feels like I’m flexing a muscle that’s been long dormant and I’m noticing the changes in other areas. The more I can commiserate or celebrate with others, the better I feel about how situations played out or how to handle similar circumstances in the future. I feel like Tell Me Something Good has helped me grow. It’s introduced me to a huge amount of new people, ideas and ways to approach intimacy in all facets of my life.

So sincerely and with love I just want to say Happy Birthday to Tell Me Something Good. If you’re in town, come on down.

Disseminating wrong in Formation.

Right wing pundits trawling for traffic by claiming that Beyonce’s Superbowl half time performance was racist are absurd. No, I’m not gonna link to them and give them traffic. Googling “Beyonce Superbowl racist” will give you everything you need. I’m not doing their dirty work for them. It’s amazing that they managed to bring up the lack of racial diversity (e.g. no white women) in her homage to the Black Panther movement. Sorry dickheads, but your attempt at finding reverse racism is fucking ridiculous and you should feel bad about yourselves. You’re tools, taking advantage of people who don’t understand insidious societal concepts like privilege and inequality. It’s not their fault, they’re hard concepts to grasp. Being in a position of influence, perhaps you should think twice before committing so strongly to cheap tactics. Are you really so unsure of your dominant foundations that you have to shit on attempts to reignite progressive cultural discussion? You are a joke and it saddens me that people are gullible enough to listen to you.

Me? I know that nobody really listens to me. Or at least I’d hope they wouldn’t after the many times I’ve described my bowel movements. Any influence I have should be limited to my topics of expertise, which is basically only myself. I’m an authority on me, but little else. I should be. I’ve spent the most time around me out of anyone in the world. I’m not gonna claim to know everything about myself, but most things. Actually, one of my favourite things is when I’m trying to figure out where Past Me would’ve put something or what kind of password Past Me would’ve set. I think to myself how would I have responded to this situation? Then I proceed to do the thing I would’ve likely done in the situation! It sounds ridiculous, but being able to work out how I function really does make me feel positively about myself.

I mean, think of the alternative. If I tried to put myself into Past Me’s frame of mind and failed, would I really know myself? What if I tried time and time again, but just couldn’t work out my mental process? I’d start to feel weird, absent from myself. I’d feel displaced, as if I was losing track of who I was. Of course we all change, but to evolve so much as to become unrecognisable to yourself? That’s a chilling thought. Honestly, that kind of mental divergence terrifies me to my core. At the end of each day the one thing I’m assured of is that I am me. I take comfort in being able to trust my own thoughts and sense of logic. If that disappeared, my confidence would be shattered.

It’s why I’m so sympathetic to mental illness of all kinds. Through no personal fault, without even having oppressive societal structures to blame, so many of us have reason to doubt ourselves. Because of internal chemistry. Because of traumatic experiences. Because of tragic biological incompatibilities. It’s distressing that this is something that could be within us already, something that people around us suffer from and we never even know their struggles. For all I know it’s waiting in my future. It could even be a part of my life now without realising it. It’s almost paralysing to think of the huge effect it has and how little we can do to mitigate it, how little we still know. It’s awful, but it’s real. For many of us it’s a huge part of our reality. If there’s anything that could make you feel helpless, not having faith in your mind is right up there.

Still, if you think Beyonce’s Superbowl half time performance was racist, you’ve got no excuse.

The conflict will be long and black.

There’s a war brewing in my workplace kitchen. Lines have been drawn, shots have been fired but this powder keg has yet to blow.

Let’s start with a run down of how coffee works in our kitchen. There’s a Zojirushi brew dispenser that runs on goodwill. Whenever it’s empty, someone will stock a filter with grinds and put a fresh pot on. Some people are pretty militant when it comes to ensuring there’s a steady supply (including one gal who seems to put brews on as late as 3pm. I bet she fucking hates sleep). The grinds are kept in an easily accessible drawer. It’s a simple system that has worked for the entirety of my employment here. There’s also a good espresso machine upstairs that can make all manner of drinks, but seems to break down every week. Plus for some reason they don’t trust us to pour beans into the hopper. Clearly they think we’re children. So the kitchen coffee is a last resort, but also a free last resort, so being choosy is a bit rich.

This harmonic balance shifted last week. A black circular Swiss Chalet takeaway container appeared behind the Zojirushi. Filled to the brim with grinds, it was an invitation, if anything.

[As an aside, the kitchen is a place of communal sharing. If food appears in the kitchen that means it’s up for grabs 99% of the time. Today there was a bag of bagels and a plate of sultana cookies. Further proof that kitchens are where the magic happens and sharing is caring.]

Except it wasn’t. Looming on the wall behind the plastic tray was a sign that o’erleapt passive aggressiveness and adopted all caps for that classic straight for the jugular (heh, Jug-ular. Because we’re talking about coffee) approach:

“NOT YOUR GRINDS. HANDS OFF. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH.”

Baffled, befuddled, perplexed, bemused. Whatever you want to call it, everyone who passed through the kitchen felt it. There was a disarming paradigm shift. I was a glob of saliva away from a literal spit take, but as metaphorical as my reaction was I still physically twitched. I asked around for any insight, but nobody had any ideas. It didn’t make any sense. My mind flooded with questions:

  • How were they using these grinds? Was it a small French press batch? Were they adding raw grinds to their already brewed cup for extra intensity?
  • Did they own the grinds or had they been taking ownership of communal stocks?
  • If it was their own supply, why were they leaving them out in the open where anyone could get to them?
  • Even if it wasn’t, if they were being selfish already wouldn’t flat out stealing the grinds be their best course of action?
  • In any case, why was it exposed to the open air? Wouldn’t that ruin the grinds?
  • Was this some strange social experiment to get a litmus test of kitchen attitudes?
  • Is the next season of Big Brother actually an Eldritch office reality TV show where the employees are slowly driven to madness by socially uncouth demonic machinations?

That was a week ago. Because the office is naturally a place of shit-stirrers, several signs appeared alongside the grinds. A small bag with a corner cut off read “I did things to your grinds…” Another sign claimed “COMPANY PROPERTY. PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE FROM THE BUILDING.” Here I am wishing that I had the Photoshop skills to do a Lucky Charms leprechaun edit, but I’m a total pleb when it comes to visual editing. Those tricks are for kids, anyway. I asked our big boss. She suggested the only response was to escalate and shame the grindee into coming clean or disappearing. That’s the kind of marketing I can get behind.

Time to sharpen those knives.

Imagine if I cared this much about fighting inequality or helping the less fortunate.

How hard is it to make a decent coffee? A Herculean task, apparently. Since I arrived in Toronto I’ve been eagerly checking out cafe after cafe in order to build a network of quality caffeine all around the city. My goal is to be no more than five minutes away from a quality espresso drink whenever I step off the subway. There has been both trial and error. Then more error and occasional spots of success. It’s a work in progress, or an eternal side quest. A waste of time to some, but frankly I’m cursed with too much spare time and a skewed collection of priorities. The thing is, at some point I found a job as a barista. My latte art looked akin to a preschooler’s crayon drawings, but at least I could make a good tasting coffee. While that’s behind me, at when I get a ratshit coffee, I know that I could do better.

My favourite drink is a mocha. It’s coffee’s gateway drug. It’s warm, milky, a smooth consistency and the sweetness offsets the natural bitterness of espresso coffee beautifully. Since I want to holding them to the same standards (and since it’s pretty hard to fuck up a mocha) the mocha is my go-to barometer of judgement. I’ve found there are a few qualities I look for when judging a coffee:

  • Beans: Balance is the name of the game. Slightly bitter, acidic, sweet and aromatic, but not too much of any one thing that it throws the taste out of alignment. A pleasant aftertaste really helps it go down.
  • Heat: As hot as you can drink without burning your mouth. This one’s tricky to get, but I’d rather my drink was closer to warm than scalding. I’m a fast drinker, so notching it up a few degrees does force me to slow down, but if my taste buds are singed it’s not like I’d taste the coffee anyway.
  • Milk: Anyone can heat milk, but getting the texture right is key. New baristas will always stretch the milk too much, which makes it super frothy. Elsewise they’ll heat it so much I think they’re trying to Spicoli me. A mocha’s a latte, so you want to stretch the milk just slightly, then rest the steam wand underneath the surface and spin the milk without plunging it too deep. It should be thicker than normal, but not gluggy. Smooth is the name of the game.
  • Chocolate: Sweet without being cloying. I’ve seen a variety of techniques work here. Ghirardelli does great chocolate syrup. Chocolate milk is naturally a treat (especially the Harmony stuff). Chocolate powder works fine too, brand pending. That Chocosol Mexican style chocolate is amazing, but rare to find in espresso drinks. I’ve had some baristas just put in baking cocoa, which is way too bitter. Cut that with something or just bite the bullet and get a better option.

So I’ve wandered around and tried a ton of coffee. Sometimes the coffee itself will be fine, but a shitty barista will ruin it. Everyone has to start somewhere, I guess. Once or twice I’ve asked for a redo, if I’ve just paid $5 for a subpar mocha. I feel shitty asking for it, but I also feel shitty paying $5 for something that’s actively disappointing. Seriously, getting a poorly made coffee can really throw a wrench in my mood. If that makes no sense to you, think about frequently ordering your favourite dish and regularly being dissatisfied with it. It’s something that’s meant to make you happy, but so often you try a new restaurant that just can’t do it right.

Anyway, I thought I’d try and crowdsource some suggestions. I’ve put together a coffee map of Toronto. If you’ve got a great local spot that does an awesome cup, let me know:

Toronto Caffriends and Caffiends.