Hard to take it personally.

I’m using this occasion primarily as a chance to try out my fancy new bluetooth keyboard. Right now I’m waiting on the subway platform. While I’m a massive fan of Swift Key, it’s doing wonders to fuck up my typing here. It auto spaces after a full stop and corrects any non-standard words I try to type. It’s a work in progress.

I was thinking earlier how technically being a “foreigner” here in Canada hasn’t ceased to create strange little scenes from time to time. People remember me. I guess that should be expected enough. The Kiwi accent sticks out amongst all the Canucks. I was sitting at a cafe this morning having breakfast and I heard someone call out “Leon. Leon.” There were kids around. I assumed my parents weren’t the only people in the world to think that Leon was a nifty name (my life experiences aren’t THAT far from that hypothesis). I turned around and an older woman was looking straight at me. “Hey Leon, you’re ‘x’s cousin from New Zealand, right?” She and her husband had met me at a BBQ with my extended family. I couldn’t remember them, but with respect for my 20, my inability to recall doesn’t negate that life happened. We chatted briefly, before she let me get back to my parfait and coffee. Someone at another table overheard that I was from down under. “Where abouts in NZ are you from?” She asked. “Auckland” I replied. “Oh” she said “I have a cousin in Dunedin who’s having a baby.” I had nothing urgent to get to, so we chatted.

I say that we chatted, but more so she asked questions and I answered. It’s not that her line of questioning was unwelcome or overly personal, but that I figured the conversation was more for her than me. It happens, you get used to it. When someone hears that you’re a Kiwi and it spawns chatter, there’s always a reason. They knew/know someone from there, they visited/are visiting. There’s some personal connection they have and you become a conduit for that. It’s not about you personally, rather you’re a stand in for them to have purpose to re-engage a part of their life. Am I making sense? These conversations have nothing to do with you and everything to do with what you can be to them. It doesn’t happen all the time, so I don’t get worked up about it.

Accent privilege both giveth and taketh. People are genuinely pretty friendly when I speak. It makes it easy to reciprocate. Attractive people here are more likely to talk to me here than back home. When it happens though, it’s mildly impersonal. I look at it two ways. It gives me a chance to get to know those who might not otherwise give me the time of day. Weirdly at times it feels oddly infantalising, they’re amazed when I have a personality and know things, as if that would’ve been impossible for someone from such a “simple” country. I know that my heritage has little to do with who I am, they don’t. It also feels a bit disheartening sometimes, that people expect me to be some stereotype. It’s far from identical, but probably not 100% dissimilar to what attractive people experience when people chat to them for no reason other than their attractiveness. You realise that people’s motives are sometimes downright transparent. If that’s mutual, fantastic. Otherwise it can make you feel lonely and strangely worthless. If your value to others is tied up in a factor that’s outside your control, then how can you rightfully take credit for it? If this is all people are gonna see in you, how much are you actually contributing?

Like I said, it’s an occasional happenstance and the accent opens more doors than it closes. It helps make me memorable and generally greases the wheels of my everyday life. The ceiling and floor alike are both pretty high, so I can’t complain too much. Altogether it’s just a bit weird that four years in, while I feel at home for the most part, occasionally a few words can make me feel like I’m not.

You know, like being asked where in Australia I’m from.

I guess you could say I was paste off.

I have a headache right now, which thankfully has been a rare occurrence in adulthood. So this entry is likely gonna be disparate thoughts stitched together. It’s odd, because I used to get headaches all the time as a kid. Maybe I wasn’t drinking enough water or there was something iffy in my diet, but it was a nigh daily happening. I became used to having painkillers on hand as a matter of course. That dried up close to 20 years back though and it’s not something I think about until I feel that familiar pressure in my brain.

I put a status up on both my Facebook news feed and in a private puns group. “What’s it called when you find the sound of people sipping miso soup triggering?” I’d thought to myself that it was a fun little joke. I expected I’d garner a couple of likes, maybe a few comments of people who didn’t get that it was a “misophonia” joke. In both cases, someone made the misophonia connection early on and commented. Others went for plays on “misanthrope” and “misogyny”, which was neat. As I’d expected, some people just didn’t get it. A few dumb comments with people making unrelated puns like “miso hungry”, which reflects on the “miso” aspect but completely misses the set up. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here, except that it was a pretty simple reminder that as soon as your message enters a public space, its meaning is up to others to determine. In a way it’s stopped being yours. I think about musicians and other artists whose texts are open to interpretation. It’s always seemed weird to me that they rarely come out and say “well this is what I intended to say with this song” or whatever. They often prefer to stay enigmatic and distance themselves from semiotic analysis. In this case I wondered if coming out and saying “welp, it was a basic misophonia joke that didn’t really need commentary” would serve any purpose. Was I better to step back and let it be its own thing? It was the path of least effort, in any case.

I was folding washing today and found myself messing up the folding of one of my girlfriend’s spaghetti strap tank tops. I looked at the misshapen lump and had a real “Once in a Lifetime” moment. How did I get here? I was co-habiting with someone else. Sharing a bed with them. Our lives intertwined. Hell, sharing food even. Flashes of memory: I thought back to how we’d met, our early dates, milestones, holidays, time with family. I flashed forward to future time with family, holidays, milestones, telling our kids about our early dates, how we’d met. At that moment it seemed simultaneously the weirdest fucking thing in the world that five years past I was half-way across the world with no idea who she was, but also the most natural thing in the world to be spending my life with her. In this moment between moments, the bizarre and wonderful duality of existing at all, of circumstance and co-incidence, of taking chances and following through, all flickered in and out of my mind, too quick to catalogue. What would my life be/have been without her? Isn’t it weird to have all of this inside of you at every moment and not constantly unravel?

To that end, isn’t it weirder that I’m not having headaches every day?

What would it be called if the sound of people drinking miso soup was your trigger?

I was on a bus. An old woman in the seat across from me was chewing loudly with her mouth open. I considered the situation. The trip would only be about five minutes. Could I survive five minutes with that sound continually jabbing into my sanity? She chewed again. Nope. No way in fuck. I moved to the middle of the bus. Opposite me was another old woman chewing with her mouth open, a certain “don’t fuck with me” stare directed straight into my eyes. A few seats in front of her was another woman chewing loudly. Escape was not an option. I spent the next five minutes twitching involuntarily.

Misophonia, as it’s called, is weird as shit to experience and creates a total mind-fuck of social vs sensory tension. I’m not sure how others handle it, but when I hear that chewing noise it sets my mind alight. The soft salival smack of lips coming together drives me mental. The crunch of open mouthed chewing feels like karmic punishment for whatever crimes I committed in a past life. It becomes impossible to think about anything else. My mind is laser focused on that godawful sound. It consumes me. My mind turns into a torrent of rage and it takes all that I have not to lash out. Concurrently I run into the barrier of social decorum and can’t handle it.

Here’s the thing. I’m an adult. Most of the people who I interact with are adults. I have a hard time believing that I have the right to tell another autonomous adult how to behave. Where would I get off telling people that the way they’re eating is wrong? Or correcting their behaviour because it suits me better? I’d be a dick to point out “oh sorry, but the way you chew is fucking disgusting and it makes me want to rip the lips off your face with my bare hands”. It just doesn’t seem proper, right? Even politely mentioning “look, I know this makes me sound pedantic, but I have a real issue with hearing the sounds of open mouth chewing. Do you mind eating with your mouth closed?” IT MAKES ME LOOK LIKE A TOTAL ASSHOLE. What am I supposed to do? Infringe upon the rights of others to make myself more comfortable? That flies in the face of the manners with which I was raised (manners which included being taught to chew with my mouth open, I might add). I’m being glib, but also more serious than I think I’m letting on. It’s really difficult for me to point out others’ rudeness, because I’d feel rude for doing so.

This means that, like the bus, every once in a while I’m stuck in a situation of extreme discomfort and can’t do anything about it. The guy who sits across from me at work, for instance, eats baby carrots. 11am every workday he opens a plastic container filled with 30 or so carrots and starts chomping hard, mouth open. I’m whipped into a swivet and reach for my headphones to drown out the sound. In a panic I throw on something, anything (though in a pinch it’s usually Spacehog’s “In the Meantime”). The other day I was playing Magic at someone’s place and there was a bowl of skittles in the middle of the table. A guy diagonally across from me started chewing them, open mouthed. I could hear the saliva swishing around in his mouth. My game started going all fucky as I lost sight of my lines of play. All I could think about was the fucking sound of his chewing and how much I wanted to wrench his jaw apart and pull out his tongue. Then my opponent began chewing skittles with an open mouth and I borderline lost my shit. THESE ARE ADULTS FOR FUCK’S SAKE. NOBODY EVER TAUGHT THEM TO KEEP THEIR FUCKING MOUTHS SHUT? But I was at someone else’s house. I didn’t feel like I had any place telling them how to act in a space that wasn’t my own. So I drove my game into the ground and decided I’d had enough, that I needed to leave. Post game I packed up my things and headed on out. It was easier than dealing with that sound any longer.

Is there a solution? I don’t know. I could get better about establishing my boundaries, finding an inoffensive way to let people know just how much it affects me. Then if they continue to do it in spite of my issue, I should have no qualms about jabbing my fist right down their throat and pulling out their uvula.

Or maybe I try hypnotherapy. It’d probably come with fewer manslaughter charges.

You know something? I used that middle urinal and I felt like a god.

At improv yesterday we were learning about status and our teacher told us something interesting. She said that status is a choice. It’s not something that can be taken from us, it can only be volunteered. She said to imagine status as some kind of liquid within us. We wake up each day with it filled to the brim. Countless interactions throughout the day allow us to tip out or refill that status, depending on our response. When our status is lowered, that’s a choice we’ve made. It went deeper, but let’s keep things pretty simple.

Status exists on two poles; high and low. Those poles each have tiers to them. The highest is happiness, then anger and lastly sadness. Status is also largely a concept that we buy into societally. We’ve decided that attributes such as wealth, power and attractiveness dictate our status. We see those who possess these traits as opinion leaders or somehow more capable than those without. It sucks, but when you think of high status, what image comes to your mind? Is it a tall white dude wearing a nice blue suit getting into his Mercedes? Society is all kinds of biased. It’s sexist, racist, ableist and, well, facist too. It’s systematically drilled into us a certain image of status and over time we’ve chosen to accept that.

I started to think about the way I roam the world and how I exchange status. A lot of the time in public, I aim to be as considerate as possible. This can involve stepping out of the way on the footpath, standing on public transport, making myself as small as I can to let people through. I’m not a tiny person or physically unimposing, but I’m aware of how I could be perceived as thus. I’m conscious that as a dude, I tread upon a mountain of privilege every day and I intentionally try not to take it for granted. I know that if I didn’t go out of my way to consider others, it’d seem like I was any other white dude imposing himself upon the world. That sounds shit in my book, so I try to mitigate it. I try to lower my status to even the playing field. Whether this works, I have no idea. Most people tend to find me pretty non-threatening, so maybe I’m on track.

Our teacher said something else. She said that the difference between confidence and arrogance involves whether or not you ever choose to willingly lower your status. If you refuse to ever yield status, you come off as an asshole. Cocky and unfriendly. People will resent that you seem to put yourself above them. I thought about this and wondered what balance I could strike to raise my status without trampling on others. I often joke about what the world must seem like to a confident person (doing power moves like pissing in the middle urinal of three), but it’s not like I don’t have that option in front of me. Recently I’ve been trying small tricks to see if they’ll help. I’ve been checking my posture more regularly. An upright chest with neutral spine, shoulders back, pelvis tilted forwards. I’ve been trying to smile more often in a fake it till you make it kind of fashion. If I do move aside or let someone through, I do it with a smile. Happiness is a status move, whether intentional or not. I’ve been heeding another lesson learned in improv- that it’s okay to pause before responding. You don’t need to always have an answer right away. Taking a second to consider isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows you’re thinking about the right answer.

Status is a privilege and it’s also a choice. It’s weird to think that I had a say in this all along.

Sounds choice to me.

Not that the word “flaccid” was important. I just wanted to add texture.

It’s been some time since I’ve talked about anything polyamory and that’s likely because it’s been some time since polyamory was relevant in my day to day. Neither my partner nor I have had much interest in dating other people, so neither of us have. When enough’s going on in your life that you’re having difficulty spending time with those you love, it’s hard to muster up enthusiasm for getting to know even more people you’ll eventually have to cancel on. Hell, it’s hard enough failing at re-working a sentence not to end on a preposition.

I figure that still being relatively new to the practice of extending romantic connection beyond monogamous commitment, there are muscles to be worked. It’s not like those muscles atrophy without use, but have you tried going for a run after a weeks spent marathoning The Wire? One of these things is only an exercise in patience. I haven’t had to think about romantic/sexual connections with others in yonks. Nor have I put myself through the mental gymnastics of working around the abundant social programming of a largely monogamous society. I haven’t been considering my anchor partner meeting others and how my brain reacts to that idea. She hasn’t dated anyone in an age. The last time I dated anyone was maybe ten months ago. It ended amicably enough, but I also didn’t yearn to get back out there. So we’ve been nesting comfortably.

My girlfriend and I went to a party the other night. I noticed she was getting close to a guy there. Nothing remotely explicit. A light brush here, a hand on the upper arm or waist. My immediate response wasn’t anything apocalyptic, but more aw geez, now I’m gonna have to do the work of mental unpacking. I was bracing myself for the thought of dealing with feelings that could potentially be challenging at some point. Like standing behind a wall holding a shield encased in a suit of armour. Are feelings that monstrous?

I tried poking and prodding at them a little. I’d met this dude a couple of times before. He’s always been a friendly, welcoming fellow. He’s open and honest, fun to be around and a warm soul. He’s a tall, good looking guy, so I understand her attraction. It’s not like I harbour any ill will for him, so why would I bristle at the thought of my girlfriend wanting to spend time with him? Because my italicised counter-thoughts chimed in, if she thinks he’s attractive, then she doesn’t think you are. That was silly. I find other women attractive, does that mean I don’t consider my girlfriend to be a knockout? Hell no. She’ll get infatuated with him and you’ll feel lonely, sad, holding your flaccid dick in your hand. I mean, this was getting to the heart of it. I didn’t want to be left behind or put out. The assumption that she’d no longer want me was ridiculous. I went off and had another relationship while living with her. Did I desire her less? Hell no. It made me appreciate even deeper all the things that made her special. But she’s a hyper-desirable person. She’ll be constantly out at parties finding people to fuck while you circle the snack table and talk to people about Air Bud like a child or adult with severe arrested development issues. Like a textbook narcissist, this was all a big plea of “what about me?”

I’m sure I sell myself short, but my base assumption is that nobody is interested ever. Straight up, my brain tells me that nobody wants to fuck me. The fact that a) I’m not a virgin and b) don’t think I have it in me to coerce anyone, should contradict this all to hell. It’s a worthless mental affirmation that I constructed years before I’d ever had sex. I don’t know why I’m still holding onto it. I’ve got a strong conviction against making anyone feel unwelcome or uncomfortable and it’s really hard to shirk the notion that my advances would cause discomfort. To be thought of as That Creepy Dude is anathema to my M.O. My involuntary response is to never hit on anyone at a party ever. Then I feel like a fucking child as people are getting frisky around me. It’s not that I don’t get hot under the collar when I meet someone sexy at a party. It’s more akin to having a mental collar that threatens to blow my brain to giblets if I were to act on that. I’ve conditioned myself to be harmless and in so, severely damaged my self-esteem.

I’ve got work to do. I need to train those mental muscles to relax and chill out. I need to accept that my partner will be attracted to others and it’s fine for her to act on that attraction. If this relationship is to have the sustainability we both desire, then I need to work on compersion, to be happy for her finding connection. But also that it’s okay for me to do the same. I also need to understand that I’m not a burden or continually unwanted, that sending out flirty vibes is not the same thing as assuming the woman I’m talking to has no agency or choice in the matter. That it’s possible for someone to look at me and think I want to put my lips on his and maybe touch his butt.

It wouldn’t be the first time.

We also spent a surprising amount of the lesson talking about characters with hooks for hands.

Taking improv classes was a good decision, not only for having reigniting my joy of performance. It’s been challenging mentally and at times emotionally, but it’s certainly forced me into dealing with discomfort that lies beyond my comfort zone. It’s been so rewarding to notice the class collectively adapting to each new lesson, progressing and coming out of their shells. You’d think we were taking… improve classes or something.

Last night’s class was on character and relationships. Given the rapid fire nature of the format, being able to snap instantly into a character is vital. Character encompasses so much. How big is your character? Are they a “straight man” or something more absurdist? A pivotal part of the scene? Or a mechanic to help along the narrative? What is their relationship with the other characters? High or low status? What is the mantra that they hold on their heart? How could we decide all of this in the instant before we entered the scene?

As always, our teacher encouraged us that we knew this already. That a lifetime of stories had taught us that this was instinctive. If a character was a yoga instructor, what did we already know about them? What about an investment banker? There were no wrong answers. Our first thought was usually right and we just needed to follow those threads.

We tried a technique called The Alexander Method. We walked about the room in a neutral fashion. Neutral pace, posture, expression. She gave us instructions that we slowly incorporated. Light on our feet, quick, indirect How did that inform posture? Breath? Emotion? What did our character think about when they woke up in the morning? Then simply turning to a partner and introducing ourselves, our names and mantras. Committing to the choices we’d made. We tried again, this time heavy, direct. We were instructed to lead with a body part. How did it hold tension? What was our mantra this time? Again we introduced ourselves to sometime, as if at a networking event, gave them our mantra. Then break, back to walking around the room. Light, direct. Who were we? How did we relate to others? Then introducing ourselves to the nearest person as if they were an ex we hadn’t seen in some time.

I knew my character was constantly off in their own head, ceaselessly analysing. My yoga teacher ex was trying to catch up while I was mentally only scantly there. Feeling entrenched in character, I realised that this had always been the case, that she’d been looking for something in me I wasn’t interested in providing. My charger was baffled by human interaction. I could sense her frustration in the moment, but felt so in character. I was genuinely confused. Why did she think she was worth my time? Why would she think to divert my attention. I was adroitly dismissive, looking for an excuse to be physically elsewhere too.

Later in the class we sat down and volunteered to do scenes two at a time. I was paired with a woman and told that we were characters on the verge of divorce, but we’d both unintentionally turned up to collect our child from school. She arrived after I did and instantly I knew. She was always like this. Late, unreliable. She was the “fun one”, but it was always on me to pick up the pieces, be the bad guy, sort out appointments, keep the house in order. The scene became very visceral and raw as it all flooded out. Our child arrived, oblivious to the tension. “Do you think I’m a bad mother?” My partner asked. My eyes narrowed and I felt the pettiness come forth. I wanted to be cruel, to stick the knife in. I replied. “What kind of mother do you think you are?” The test of the class made an involuntary noise, like they’d seen a small animal harmed. The teacher cut the scene. I tried too let go of it, but holy shit were my shoulders tense. I was shaking slightly. Too real. After class I took my scene partner aside and checked in with her. She felt the same way. It worked, but did we ever feel it.

Now I can’t wait for next week.

No man is an I LAN.

Are LAN parties dead? A relic of 56K modems? Left in the dust by Steam’s handy functionality? X-Box Live supplanting the need for proximity co-op gaming? Do we sound the keening bell in lament of fond memories? Of late nights and tired eyes? Of Red Bulls and caffeine pills? Of companionship born out of necessity? All laid to rest at the altar of a new age.

Without sarcasm, I can say that LAN parties were some of the highlights of my teen years. I’d pack my bulky desktop computer and CRT screen into a large rubbermaid and bug my parents for a lift to a friend’s place. Typically their parents would be out of town. While other kids would be conducting Risky Business, we’d get hopped up on sugar and play video games until our eyes bled.

It was the natural evolution of sleep overs, but with added ixnay on the sleeping. You’d maybe catch a couple of hours if you were lucky, optimal downtime to leech video games, movies, music and anime off others. If your computer was gonna be out of use for three hours, why not let yourself recover? Much like sleepovers, LANs offered the optimal outlet for a good D&M (Deep and Meaningful chat) about who you had the hots for, typical teenage gloating and all sorts of angsty shit. Unless a game was in progress, of course.

What games? Whatever was in the nerdcore zeitgeist, in as much as we could all run it. We tended to cater to whoever had the lower spec’d rig (usually me). Starcraft was a common favourite, making sure we evenly divided skill level across teams. A few years later Warcraft 3 was Le Jeu Du Jour. We’d mess around on Heroes 3, Counterstrike (NO FUCKING AWP CAMPERS) or if I begged enough we’d give the much maligned Ricochet a try (I mainly loved the death sound). Star Wars: Jedi Knight was awesome. While we began by tearing apart one another with guns, eventually we learned how much fun it was to go HAM at one another with lightsabers and force push/pull. You could deflect bullets and turn opponents’ attacks back on themselves. Who wouldn’t want to play a recurring game of stop hitting yourself?

Aliens vs Predator 2 was possibly one of the best multiplayer experiences I ever had, primarily because one of my friends Lost His Shit Constantly. We’d play survival mode, in which we started out with one xenomorph and everyone else was human. Whenever you died, you became a xenomorph and hunted down the humans in a pack. Our friend would constantly be in a palpable state of terror, literally screaming and borderline hyperventilating. I think he enjoyed it, though clearly not as much as we did.

As we aged, contraband got folded into the equation. Someone would always have an older brother or lax parent. LAN parties continued to help us unwind, while also resembling very real parties. We’d trade silly Newgrounds videos and obscure internet phenomena. If someone was temporarily absent, we’d go through their computers in search of their hidden porn stash. Or anything else equally incriminating. There was rarely any bullying, but friendly ribbing was a mainstay. Functionally it allowed a bunch of us to spend a large block of time together without having to part ways.

I don’t know what modern experience would emulate LAN parties. Do kids these days hang out with tablets? Does Nintendo Switch fill the void? Or do they get their kicks at their respective homes all playing Overwatch? As an adult, this seems like a hard sell. People enjoy going home to their beds and pets. Friendships seem emotionally closer, but less time intensive. Would people want to spend that long in a basement, huddled around computers? Or does that remind us too much of being at work?