What’s the deal?

Sorry, no year in review. This isn’t gonna be some nostalgic Best Of. I’m not gonna count down the top moments of 2015, list the new experiences I had or set up an elaborate system of checks and balances to live my life by. 2015 happened. It was great, terrible and magic in different amounts. I’ve learned over time that holding oneself up to past accolades or accomplishments is a fool’s errand, so I’m not gonna try to be anything other than what I am. My New Year’s resolution was a wreck. I kept things simple, achievable and I failed utterly. I said 2015 was to be the year I’d finally watch Seinfeld.

That didn’t happen. I’d already seen the first season before starting this perfectly doable task. Despite my best efforts (which proved to be pretty dismal), I managed to watch the second season. I like the show, it just doesn’t resonate with me enough. Before you cry infidel and crush all my pop-culture credibility, give me some breathing room. The show was groundbreaking in its time and pushed the sitcom to all new areas. Thing is, I was a little young when it first aired and it’s hard for me to experience it with that same cultural relevance. A million shows have aped the conventions of Seinfeld since it aired and now the subtlety of the original seems lost in the weeds. It’s a funny show, the jokes are still relevant, but they don’t feel as revolutionary. Without the nostalgic pull it’s hard for me to really connect. I’m impressed that the show runs so smooth considering how clean the humour is, but that feels like a hard road to run for me. I’ve become so entrenched in the mire of blue comedy that when things feel so innocent, my mind can’t help but grope for that missing element. I’ve got no issue with clean comedy, but I don’t know that I seek it out. Maybe 2015 wasn’t the right Seinfeld year for me.

While I don’t like the idea of New Year’s resolutions, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to reach for anything. Of course I’d like to keep moving on up, because complacency isn’t a helpful place for me to dwell. There is one goal I’d like to achieve next year. I’d like to write something for monetary compensation. I’m not talking about making it rain green with my proceeds. This isn’t about the compensation. I love contra, writing in exchange for some kind of goods or experience. Seeing a concert and sharing my experience, watching a metric fuckton of live comedy for no expense beyond my words. Those things were amazing and I’ll keep doing them next year. This isn’t what I mean. I want to write something, whether commissioned or self-specced, and be financially rewarded for doing so. Hell, even a couple of bucks as a token amount. It’s a signifier, a sign that my writing is at a level where people would be happy to part with currency to publish it. I’m not looking for a new job or career. I’m just looking to pass one more milestone, to hopefully discover an area of strength or valued voice. To find a position where my learned experience or culture is useful or interesting to people. To feel that the time and energy I’ve devoted day by day in 30+ minute increments to this project is doing something.

Because surely I’m not talking endlessly about nothing for no good reason.

Wait, I may not’ve watched Seinfeld, but did I become Seinfeld?

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I’m not sold on this.

Going to the movies these days is a really strange experience. I’m sure it hasn’t changed much and I’ve just become more aware of the strings. Still, I find it peculiar that I don’t see anyone else looking around thinking what the fuck is happening right now? Why are we subjecting ourselves to this? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the experience of being in a dark room, dwarfed by the action on screen. I love getting wrapped up in film plots, but the pre-show leaves me utterly puzzled.

First thing: You’re paying to see advertising. You’re paying for a ticket in order to go watch ads that these companies have paid the cinema to run. You give them cash for a ticket, they also get cash for having you there as a captive audience. I’d understand if this had something to do with a subsidy on ticket prices, but they keep going up. A standard film for an adult is $15.99 here in Canadia. Then you add on 3D (because it’s really difficult to find 2D showings of popular movies), which is another three dollars. Then ultra AVX. Then VIP because why the hell not. Soon enough you’re paying $25 to see a movie and you still have to sit through ads.

You think you’re smart turning up 15 minutes after showtime and only catching one trailer. Thing is, they don’t do assigned seating any more. It’s first come, first serve, so you’re incentivised to get there early or else suffer through neck pain for the next few days. The race for bums in seats has become a total arms race and instead of being fine to arrive on time, you need to arrive 15 minutes before showtime. So you get there early and wait through half an hour of paid content and you’re still out $16 at least. I don’t tend to watch many ads these days but holy shit, I’m not missing out. I’ve gone on before about how great New Zealand advertising is. It’s so often clever or celebrates the gloriously deadpan Kiwi humour. Adverts here are big and dumb and let you know it.

The advert that struck me as miraculously unnecessary was the Benylin cough syrup ad. Some personified cough/flu bug is flying around a box of Benylin, but fortunately their blue mascot man rises from the box and comes to the rescue. He’s like a blue fucking porn star. Head to toe muscle complete with an Adonis belt. This dude has fucking cum gutters. He grabs the cough bug and throws it into oblivion. Why the hell is this guy so ripped? It feels gratuitous to the extreme. What’s next? The Wendy’s girl with back dimples and a thigh gap? Did I need cough mixture to make me feel physically inadequate? I’m no prude, but this kind of over-sexualisation stinks of rushed creative and a lack of imagination.

Doesn’t it also seem strange that they play cellphone games in a theatre, when you’re supposed to come in and turn off your phone? I mean, let’s not kid ourselves here. It’s just another avenue for them to slip in paid content. While we were spared the multiple choice question of Popeye’s chicken is a) slow roasted for 12 hours, b) warm and juicy, c) delicious or d) just fucking buy our chicken, it was one big Star Wars ad. Then the winner in the theatre gets something like 50 scene points, which equate to earning 5% of a free movie. Why are people buying into this? How is this industry still running? Why can’t I decide if I want drink Benylin to soothe my throat or just fuck it?

Seeing a movie is supposed to be fun, so why do I leave exhausted?

You’ve got melee.

It’s safe to say that today was an irritating day. Do you ever get to that state where tiny little jabs and prods start to affect you so much that they become a part of you? Suddenly you’re the prickly one? Things that shouldn’t even matter are hulking impositions and you realise you just told a mailbox to go fuck itself? It’s an inanimate object. It hasn’t done anything to you but exist and you can’t blame it for being in your way, but you do. Because you’re not acting in a rational state of mind. One thing after another has piled up and that scattered illogical part of your brain tells you that the only way to bring down that imaginary wall of opposition you’ve built is to sound the warhorn and charge. Then someone thinks you’re yelling at them (because yelling at a mailbox is a stupid thing to do) and you feel sheepish and embarrassed and frustrated. Not knowing how to resolve the situation, you dissolve into the crowd before you try to say both “I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking to you” and “I’m such a fucking idiot” and mistakenly yell “I’M SORRY YOU’RE SUCH A FUCKING IDIOT!”

Now that would be silly, wouldn’t it?

Silly comes from silly places and the place the mood had come from was silly indeed. I worked today, it was an optional day to pick up. We’d gone down to a skeleton staff of two people from a team of eight. The way I was sold on picking up this week’s shifts was that the work had been done, we were just filling errant holes. My boss suggested bringing in a bottle of Baileys, making a few Irish coffees. It was gonna be cruisy, slow. In the mean time, we’d get a day in lieu for each day we worked. Why not? I thought. I have nothing better to do. The alternative would be pointless wasted days in front of Netflix. So I signed on for today, tomorrow and Thursday’s half day.

You guys aren’t the kind of idiots that’d yell at a mailbox. You know where this is going. Errors sprung up. There were issues with material, tasks had to be redone. Mistakes had to be fixed. Because I was the most experienced team member (of the two members present. Considering I’ve been there a year, that’s saying something) I had to pull my thumb out of my arse and jump on a few grenades. All the while, new work kept cropping up. It was like coming under an airstrike. We’d find cover, clear the air and come up for breath. After a mere gasp we’d be bombarded with more to do. Relentless. The day that was meant to be spent lazily in the comforting nook of a good book instead kept our faces in the dirt. The right answer was to hold my breath and repeat the mantra of day in lieu, we’re being paid double to be here.

Yet again, you’re not idiots. You know what happened next. I looked up and around and breathed in anything noxious that came my way. I let it in and became infused with anything that could and would annoy me. I know how logic works. I know how to be reasonable. I applied zero of that to thoughts running through my mind. Instead everything that moved got stamped with a big FUCK OFF. New emails? Can’t they solve their own fucking problems? Covering for others? Couldn’t they have done this before they left? People texting me? Leave me alone. Can’t you see I’ve got shit to do right now? Phone notifications? I don’t have time! None of this was anyone else’s fault, but my shields were down and everything I’d usually deflect sunk right in. Reflexively I came out swinging and assigned all blame back to its source. It was the world against me, without the logic that hey, the world keeps spinning on its axis and sometimes that’s enough to throw you off balance.

Which could be why I walked into a mailbox.

Maybe I can blame my excessive static electricity on a secret CIA mind altering operation. I may just be procrastinating against buying a dehumidifier though.

Watched American Ultra today. I meant to watch American Ultra when it first came out, but that never happened. That never happened because I intended to catch it on a cheap Tuesday (like the new Star Wars. Please let me make it another 24 hours without spoilers. It’s getting ridiculous. At an event last night I needed to plug one ear with my finger and start humming to not overhear the table next to me chatting loudly about it). I waited long enough that the flood of average reviews tempered my enthusiasm until I decided it wasn’t worth my money, that I’d be better to catch it outside its theatrical release. You know what? It would’ve been the perfect kind of film to catch on the big screen. Flashy and bombastic, crashes, bangs and fast paced music cuts that would’ve swelled on dolby surround. Large scale action suited perfectly to the cinematic environment. I missed that though and instead caught it on my computer monitor.

You know what? Fuck the reviews, it was exactly what I was looking for. Never overly poignant, but well paced, scripted and cast. However much I like Eisenberg in particular roles, Kristin Stewart has always been hit or miss for me. When she doesn’t click I find myself apathetic, but when she’s on I’m backing her 100%. Being a sucker for Adventureland, I tend to like the two of them together on screen. Stewart in this, was fucking excellent. Vulnerable and believable when necessary and kicking ass all over the show. I liked their relationship because she sold it. She was the heart of the film and in most every case gave as good as she got. I wanted to cheer for their weird little coupling and it’s pretty rare for me to give a shit about characters I know I’m only spending 90 minutes of my life with.

The film hit upon one of those tropes I find it hard not to jump on board whole heartedly: The hapless loser imprinted with insane latent abilities that throw them above the curve. I’m sure “stoner Jason Bourne” is how it was sold and as someone who enthusiastically devoured the first two seasons of Chuck (and the next two a lot less enthusiastically). It’s fun to watch action films where the environment actively comes into play. Having a character use the space around them feels rewarding, because it justifies that use of space in the first place. Like Bourne and Chuck, the action of American Ultra is hugely concerned with improvising based on location. It’s fun to enter a scene and start scanning the room to imagine which seemingly innocent objects are in actuality the harbingers of bloodshed. The film didn’t shy away from finding ideal locations for public massacres either. It’s rare for me to avoid any action scene held in a retail location and this film may have even given Hot Fuzz a run for its money.

Max Landis himself is a fellow I feel so conflicted about. He’s popped up on a bunch of podcasts I frequent and every time I get this weird reaction. He’s a smart guy and his brain works in wondrous ways. He has these really compelling ideas that lend themselves to the silver screen so well. He’s an educated nerd that has a true passion for his projects and brings out a ton of clever, unconventional ideas. On the Indoor Kids podcast he went over a really fascinating treatise on what he would’ve done with the Fantastic Four movie. I’d watch it without hesitation. At the same time, he seems almost entirely insufferable. A smarmy, entitled sounding know it all. Arrogant as fuck. He’s talented and he knows it. I guess that’s what comes from having the support of a famous father and the education/backing to do whatever you want with your life. The dude makes good movies and it has me stuck in this weird limbo between respect and disgust. Maybe that’s why Topher Grace’s character in American Ultra felt so spot on. Max was just writing himself into a film.

Anyway, the film might not be cerebral, but it’s sweet, funny and very, very violent. If those are things you want to see, watch it.

A straight, white, cis male’s guide to privilege.

I was having dinner with family the other night and asked my younger cousin about how his job was going. Knowing that at his age I probably would’ve responded with a monotonous “fine”, I was surprised to hear an actual response.

“It’s good, we’ve been busy. It was pretty funny actually, today my co-worker told me I was privileged.” He scoffed.
My girlfriend and I turned to each other and exchanged a glance that said are we gonna talk about this?
I turned to his mum who looked back with an expression that said he and I will talk, but now’s not the right time.
I then wondered if I’d magically developed telepathy, or some other cool mutant power. Would super strength and an enhanced healing factor be next? Dominion over magnetism? The ability to not get distracted by anything and everything shiny I could think of?

After that brief mental record scratch, my thoughts shunted back into a groove. How would/could I approach this?

First off, an instant understanding of the complex intertwining social threads of privilege isn’t something I’d expect a white, financially supported, thin, attractive, able bodied, intellectually gifted, cis male teenager to understand straight away. Hell, I’m 28 and I’m only starting to unravel where this kind thing starts and leads. When I was 16 I was too busy worrying about why I was still a virgin to think beyond myself. I think the concept of privilege in the mainstream is still in its infancy and it’d be hypocritical of me to shit on anyone for not latching on. So this isn’t intended as a shitting-on. I’m merely recognising the stink of certain societal waste products that many of us have been unwilling to bring up. As soon as we acknowledge that there’s a smell we’re gonna start looking to point fingers before realising that we all fart. Some of ours are just more recognisable than others.

For people in culturally dominant positions of influence, it can be hard to see the concept of privilege as anything other than a direct attack. Why are people questioning you and your motives? You haven’t done anything wrong. Being born a certain way isn’t your fault. You’re right. It’s not your fault and you’re not in the wrong for not instantly knowing why the things you have give you a different outlook on how the world works. From what I’ve witnessed, read and discussed with more knowledgeable people is that privilege is often more of a blind spot. Like noticing a tiny stain on a white shirt that’s probably been there for ages. It was never an issue before you noticed it and now you can’t stop seeing it. The stain doesn’t mean that the shirt is fucked and needs to be tossed. The shirt is still fine, but maybe you want to work on that erroneous spot so you’ll feel better about wearing it again.

I get how “check your privilege” can sound like “fuck you”. That’s not what it means. I know that the usual response from the mainstream is an audible eye roll, but “check your privilege” is simply about recognising how you might have advantages in certain areas of life. It doesn’t mean that you’ve never suffered through anything. It doesn’t mean you don’t have problems. It could just mean that when you venture out into the world, you could find it easier to navigate than others do. There are a huge number of everyday occurrences that are infuriating or troubling on their own. Once a number of them stack them up, how do you think that feels?

Do security guards ever stop you to check your backpack in a retail environment?
Do you ever have to think about whether it might be easier to call your same sex lover a “friend” because you’re not sure how co-workers would think of you otherwise?
Do you ever have to put thought into which bathroom you should be walking into?
Do you ever have to consider whether or not you’ll be able to physically enter a building if it has stairs?
Do you ever go shopping, find something nice and realise that they don’t make it in your size?
Do you bring up ideas in a meeting, find yourself ignored, only to see someone else get credit for your idea when they raise it in a louder voice?
Do you ever have to give a serious thought to whether or not you can spend time with your friends, if that means spending $10 on a meal that you might need for your life’s regular upkeep?
Do you ever give a second thought to your actions and how they fit into preconceived ethnic stereotypes?
Do you ever feel seriously worried about your safety walking down the street at night?
Do people judge you for what you eat because of the way you look?
Do you ever have to deal with people treating you in a sexual manner when you’re really not in the mood, then if you don’t respond in the way they desire it’s suddenly your problem?
Do you ever have people assuming you’re less intelligent or competent simply because of how you look or speak?
Does anyone ever talk to you in a condescending fashion as a matter of course?
Do people assume you’ll always remember important anniversaries and family details because you’re better at that kind of thing?

None of this stuff happens to me on the regular. In fact, there’s a lot of stuff that never happens to me at all. There’s a lot of stuff that I would have no idea happened in our world if it didn’t happen to my friends and other acquaintances. This kind of stuff happens. To some people it happens every day. To some people it can happen multiple times a day. It can happen tons of times in a day. Every day. But not for me.

This is what privilege is. Privilege is not knowing that issues exist because they don’t exist in your direct line of sight. They don’t happen to you, so they’re not your problem. If they’re not your problem, then they’re not problems at all. They might be happening to people you know and love though. Wouldn’t you want to do something about that? It’s possible. It would involve work over time, changes in perspective bit by bit. It would involve looking around, listening, reading. Finding out ways that other people are impacted by a system that happens to work reasonably well for you. The more things you know about, the better you can try to accommodate people having trouble. The easier it’d be to understand why they’re having a harder time. The kind of things I’ve brought up are a macrocosm of the irritating, hurtful, dangerous, difficult ways that people are conscious of by the simple act of living in a society. I haven’t listed more because frankly, they’re not as apparent to me as I go about my life. I have so much to learn. I’m not gloating, I’m stating the fact. I am privileged in the way I navigate the world. My life isn’t always easy, I have problems, but I recognise that I don’t have to bear the weight of emotional armour as a coping mechanism whenever I leave the house.

If you really don’t care, then you do you. I’m not telling you you’re a shitty person. Everyone has their own baggage to deal with. I’m not your dad. If you are interested in helping, maybe start small. If you notice that someone you love or care for seems burdened, perhaps ask if you can help lighten the load. Ask what’s holding them down and if there’s anything you can do. Would venting frustrations help? Even if you’re not aware of the issues they face, sitting with them and listening is not difficult to do. You might even learn something.

Also if you’re interested, read from people who are way smarter, more aware and knowledgeable on the subject than I am. So, practically anyone who’s written about this but me.

And hey, it might help solve that strange audible eye roll you get when someone tells you to “check your privilege”. An audible eye roll sounds like a legitimate medical concern.

That’s vintnertainment.

My 24 hours of devotion to the temple of excess were sponsored by Manischewitz wine, nectar of the gods. Well, of God I guess, Judaism being so monotheistic and all. Brought to our gathering as a joke, the comically sweet liquid quickly became a fan favourite of all present. Everybody who joined our procession (greeted by a loud “Merry Happy”) was encouraged to join our cultish behaviour. Frankly I’m surprised we didn’t try mixing it with Kool Aid. We did, however, attempt to cut the sweetness with the unfortunately abundant supplies of white wine we had. No aspersions on the lighter grape, but the 1.5L bottle I picked up from the LCBO for $12.95 (which the staff member described as both “popular” because of the price and “harmless”), had no variety beyond “white wine”. A good quaff elicited reactions similar to unintentionally having consumed urine. “It has alcohol” would’ve been a quick description of its only merit. So as I said, it was perfect for cutting the cloying (sumptuous) candied taste of hallowed Hebrew-ed heritage. Given the nature of conversation, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn it was laced with delicate traces of mescaline.

If that wondrous bottle of Judiac juice wasn’t enough. If the 1.5L bottle of “harmless” white wasn’t enough, we also had another 1.5L bottle of an actually palatable red. Plus two 3L bottles of mulling wine. Then out came the whiskey, gorgeous single malts. As the night tapered, another friend’s arrival brought with it a home made bottle of delectable white. Did I mention that a) there were eleven people passing in and out at different stages of the evening and b) most of the alcohol (save a respectful amount of single malts and an uncomfortable quantity of the “harmless”white). This alcohol fuelled discourse on a host of topics: Whether or not a unicorn’s genitals are non-euclidian (non-euClit-ian?) and if they can invert the space between worlds. There was a frank and sincere discussion on tense family Christmases, dealing with early onset dementia and coping with difficult situations. A friend arrived with clothes identical to mine. I hoisted my “twin” on my shoulders and we sung the Sesame Street theme song (poorly with inaccurate lyrics). The music changed source from ipod to record player to spotify. The night featured Girl Talk, Meatloaf, Marvin Gaye, Neutral Milk Hotel, Sam Cooke and ended with sing-alongs to 90s pop classics.

Of course, a feast would be nothing without food. This wasn’t merely to be a liquid dinner. Ignited by the spark of that wondrous Semitic special sauce I tended the kitchen. Quite drunk, I coaxed along the roast turkey, a pork roast and whipped up my first ever gravy from scratch. I reheated friends’ glazed maple carrots, tinned corn and a mountain of buttery mashed potatoes. My girlfriend set the table while ensuring guests’ stomachs weren’t grumbling too hard by supplying small chippy packets of Doritos (left over from Halloween). Others bought pies, whipped cream (including coconut whip. Holy shit), ice cream and chocolates. I experienced the glory of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange for the first time.

Today my girlfriend and I celebrated our lack of responsibility with leftovers. Turkey, cranberry, mashed potatoes and slathering of gravy in bed with Arrested Development on Netflix. We put the literal cherry on top by making banana splits with whipped cream, sprinkles and chocolate magic shell. Topped with the aforementioned maraschino cherry of course.

All I can say is, thanks to all our friends who came out to celebrate the holiday and a special thanks to our divine vintner Yahweh for bringing us the impeccable elixir of Manischewitz.

What Canadian Christmas Spirit could be better than maple Crown Royal?

Merry sober Christmas. For now.

Christmas wasn’t always like this. Growing up as a Jewish child meant I was an anomaly. Not celebrating Christmas made me feel different, separate, lonely. Though we had an annual barbecue celebration with our close family friends, I always felt an unspoken distance from the holiday. A barrier not physical, but still tangible. More observer than participant. As a kid I wanted nothing more than to enjoy Christmas, to hold it as part of my identity. Of course, being a child, I wanted big gifts. There’s no escaping that. Still, there was something more, something deeper. I wanted to belong, to feel like I had a place in the joy everyone else seemed to be absorbed in. Despite the festivities surrounding me, despite being physically present in a Christmas environment, I wasn’t really there so to speak.

An open wound will inevitably scab over in time. As such, the feelings surrounding Christmas dulled as I aged. No longer did I ache to belong, those desires had calloused as I hardened emotionally. My wants shifted as I reversed my position. How does one deal with rejection? Well if I couldn’t have it, I didn’t want it. I did everything I could to make my position known. I’d openly reject Yuletide sentiment in favour of seclusion. Christmas Day came down to myself, a bottle of spirits and the internet. While everyone was off with family, I had the one person I could always count on. I deluded myself into thinking that loneliness was the closest I could come to owning what I felt I’d been deprived of. The Christmas spirit wasn’t for me, so I’d find spirits that were. Nobody had put me there, it was something I’d done to myself. It was something I felt I deserved and made no effort to change it.

Then I left home, left my country. No longer surrounded by the southern hemisphere’s sunny atmosphere, a Winter’s Christmas was cold and even lonelier. Suddenly I didn’t even have a choice about company, I was lonely because I had nobody else.

Christmas has changed. I don’t know if I warmed as a person, if maturity eroded my Fortress of Solitude. All I know is that being put into a situation where I had nothing around me unless I made it, I craved something more than what I’d built. Sometimes hunger is the best motivation and I felt famished. I salvaged the rubble and created foundations brick by brick in hopes of making a home.

This year the house is warm, filled with a cappella carols and the smell of slow cooked turkey. It’s clean, the fridge is stocked and wine is plentiful. There’s a curious lull with a hint of excitement in the air. Guests will flow in over the next few hours and both the physical and sentimental warmth will grow three sizes. An overdose of food, laughs and less sober activity. Friends who are without family this time of year. Others who seek company and a place for them to find it. Knowing how I felt for so many years has spurred me to action, to shape what I wanted for others to enjoy.

My girlfriend and I had a morning of lazy bedtime, exchanging presents and leaving the house in our onesies on a quest for coffee. It’s been a boon to have time just for us, a celebration of what we have together, someone else to share the day with.

This time last year we said “I love you” for the first time. It was organic, unplanned, but felt just right. Christmas now feels like a celebration of knowing, belonging. Christmas is no longer a badge of loneliness, but a symbol of togetherness. Christmas is no longer about me and only me. Christmas to me is now about us.

That feels like something to raise a glass to.