So I sat on every fence imaginable. Is that a crime?

Last weekend the subject of comfort level with group size came up.

I thought it was interesting, given that it’s such a personal relationship with interpersonal dynamics. Rather than being some prescriptivist introvert v extrovert bullshit, people added depth as to why it was they felt so. I posed the question on Facebook today and it resulted in a wonderful thread. Everyone chimed in at length. Individuals found resonance and kinship with those who felt similarly. Some loved a 1:1 ratio because it was low stress/attention. Others enjoyed being able to passively listen and occasionally chime in with a group of 6-10. A few were just big party people. I gleaned insight into certain friends and how best to accommodate their needs/desires. Altogether an excellent experience/resource.

The one thing I didn’t do was comment with my own favourite dynamic. With reason. The thing is, when it comes to this game I’m a shameless cheater. I love all of them with different caveats.

  • Aside from hanging out alone, one of my favourite hidden dynamics is listening to a group of friends riffing on a podcast. It’s a one way medium where I feel like I’m part of a bunch of in-jokes. It’s weird how inclusive it can seem. It’s why I tend to listen to conversational podcasts rather than storytelling or informative ones. It’s like being in good company while on my own.
  • I love one to one hangouts. I love dates, heart to hearts with good friends or non-stop banter with buddies who’re on my wavelength. A good one to one session makes my heart feel full, which is a gift I then pay forward to everyone who crosses my path. Plus it very often involves eating, and anything gets better with food. Prove me wrong.
  • With the caveat that there needs to be a strong emotional or comedic resonance, I adore spending time with a couple. Usually it’ll be a matter of a longtime friend finding a partner who suits them impeccably. In this scenario I can often interplay with each partner. If there are any sticking points I get to mediate (and it’s rare I’m on anyone’s side in particular). Best of all, it allows me to sit there and soak in the affection they have for one another. A++.
  • “Double dates” are tons of fun. They don’t even need to be romantically based, but if there are interlinked relationships of any variety it’s neat to swim in those waters.
  • Groups of 6-10 are awesome for dinner parties or low key hangs. It’s uncommon for conversation to not be readily flowing. I’m naturally attention seeking, which means I get validation whenever I tell a poignant story. It also means that sometimes I can sit back and chime in with an incisive pun or joke, then bask in the reception it gets. These are the kinds of groups where someone will tell a killer joke and you all get to slowly come down from the shared peals of laughter. Alternatively, someone might be incredibly emotionally vulnerable and warmed by the support channelled back to them.
  • Gatherings of 10+ are usually when you’re getting into party terrain. If it’s among close friends, it’s wicked to end the night having had 6+ decent conversations with people I haven’t seen in ages. This is all kinds of gratifying. The types of evenings where I get to come home glowing, thinking about the wonderful people in my life.
  • Once you get over 20, I’d consider that a bonafide free for all party. To be honest, this is also one of my favourite dynamics. ESPECIALLY when I get to meet new people. Interacting with strangers is a big upper for me. I get to tell road-tested anecdotes, create new connections and be generally spontaneous. I flit in and out like some MPDG, or just hang out in the kitchen. I’m a total ham and setting a circle alight with laughter is genuinely my favourite sensation bar none. A bunch of my favourite friends were people I met at parties and decided to escalate into one on one hangouts. This one (like all of them, to be honest) is totally my jam.

Was that a cop out? Maybe I just like people, okay? Get off my back, Jack.

Or hang out with me one on one so we can eat pork bone soup and humanise each other.

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Estrange-r-ed things

I think most of you are strangers.

I’ve heard it said that a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met, but that just sounds like something strangers would want you to believe. I very much doubt that I’ve got enough chemistry with strangers (palpable as my magnanimousness is) to befriend them all. There are a ton of people who I a) do know and b) don’t like. I’m not saying it’s impossible that I’ve already met everyone I won’t like, but outlook not so good. Or maybe not. I don’t think my heart has the capacity for unlimited friends going forward. I’m already negligent enough at keeping contact with the friends I do have, let alone the exponential guilt that’d arise from my inability to afford the sheer quantity of brunches/coffees I’d need to catch up with them. Sure I’d like to buy the world a coke, but just one coke for the entire world. Not a coke for each world denizen.

That was a long way of saying that we’re probably not Facebook friends. Which is a shame (for you) because I’ve been in a silly, riffing mood all day and you’ve missed out. Fortunately, I know how to ctrl+c and ctrl+v. Here, in order of appearence, are dumb posts I’ve made:

  • If you were gonna learn Dave Matthews Band songs, would you take a Crash course?
  • After a certain amount of time they should stop calling it “news” and start calling it “olds”.
  • What was the name of Dave Matthews Band’s lead singer again?
  • I feel like acoustic party dudes in the 90s practiced Santeria.
  • How big are the apples in Minneapolis?

Did that feel like a bait and switch? Good. It’s not like I wanted to be friends with you strangers anyway. I dunno. I’m in a goofy, punchy mood. I want to spend time with someone tonight and riff on dumb shit. It’s in these kind of moments that I miss dating. Not that dating has gone anywhere. I’m free to go and date people, I just haven’t had the energy or drive to do it much lately. Finding a wavelength with new people is one of my favourite things. Discovering that there’s this deep reservoir of kinship with someone else that we can mine for fun in-jokes and shared emotional experiences is wonderful. The onus is on me to get out there and make these connections, but really I just want people to be like “oi, I want to go on a date with you, mate”. I don’t know why I imagined them talking like Commando‘s Bennet.

Do you ever get comments from people on Facebook and you think to yourself why is this person still on my Friend List? They’ll be like, obligatory adds after a party. Someone you maybe talked to tangentially? Maybe they were in a circle of people while you were monologuing? Is this relateable to anyone else? Then they’ll post something dumb that misses the joke or sets up a pointless tangent and suddenly you realise they need to be expunged from your life? In these scenarios I’ve built up a system. I’ll set up a calendar reminder to delete them in a few days. If I immediately delete someone post comment it’s too on the nose. They might look back to see if anyone’s commented and be like “why aren’t we friends? When did that happen?” But if I wait a few days, they won’t realise. I’ve had other situations where someone posts a comment and I think y’know, I’ve never enjoyed this person. Then I’ll forget to delete them and time passes, then they’ll post another comment that makes me remember I don’t think much of them. I don’t want to get stuck in that loop. Hence the use of my handy dandy Google calendar.

Someone once told me the best thing, which was deleting people on their birthdays. If their name pops up and you’re like oh, this is an insubstantial person, just delete them. It’s genius. It’s like annually turning around your coat hangers, but for people. I’m weird about birthday messages anyway. If I can’t think of something unique to write in a message that speaks to some kind of bond or conversation we had in the past, I just won’t write a message. “Happy Birthday Agatha” is as nothing a comment as the stupid fucking waste of keystrokes that got me onto this rant in the first place. It’s the “Working hard or hardly working?” of salutations. “You’re worth the bare minimum to me. Frankly, it’s more of an ego boost to me for taking the time than it is about you.”

Ugh. I’m still thinking about that flaccid comment the dude made. What a fucking waste of DNA he is. Think about how disappointed his parents must be to have raised him. Think about the nine months of labour, costs for food, clothing, education and Christmas gifts. Those angsty teen years. All for your son to grow up and drop such a fucking useless comment. How do you explain that to your friends? Do you spend the rest of your life dreading interactions with others and having to apologise constantly for your son’s conduct? Do you doubt your own parenting abilities? “Did we raise him with flawed values? Not hold him enough? Hold him too much?” This Is Why We Don’t Tell Every Child That They’re Special.

I assume by now all of you strangers are hoping to remain just that.

Eyes down there, heart up here

Turns out my deepest, darkest dental fears were unfounded.

Despite my constant teeth-caving-in dreams, I have nothing to worry about. Orally, anyway. The world is fucked but my teeth are fine. After getting all my X-rays taken by a very nervous dental assistant, my dentist swooped in and had a quick look. “Teeth look solid, no decay, no plaque, gums are fine, recession minimal. Geez dude, give me something to work with.” I felt like it’d been built up as this grand three yearly check-up and that all fizzled out. So I just asked her some general questions about hygiene. How many times a day should I floss (at least once, but twice is even better)? Is two minutes enough brushing (yep, don’t over brush)? Do I need to brush at some fancy angle so I’m mainly focusing on the gums (nope, straight on is totally fine)? I was out of questions, so we kind of reverted to the “so what’ve you been up to lately?” conversation. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, it was nice to catch up.

As a kid I found it kind of odd that my parents had built up relationships with all the people they saw regularly for services (doctors, dentists, hair dressers, etc). In my head there was kind of boundary between professional and client. You paid them to do something, didn’t that make friendship, even low level, slightly weird? As an adult, I’ve 100% aped my parents’ style. On the contrary, it feels uncomfortable not to feel a personal connection with them. I mean, my dentist looks right inside my mouth and picks at shit. That’s kind of intimate. My doctor has seen my genitals (then again, by now who hasn’t?). In some cultures I think that means we’re legally betrothed. Now I like to hear what they’re getting up to, hear what life is like for someone different to myself. Of course I want to see photos of my physio’s twins. Dude probably knows my body better than my girlfriend by now. It feels odd that my therapist and I have to put this rigid one way boundary in place. I just want to know that she’s doing okay. I’m joking, but only halfway.

I find all this funny, because while I’m a heart on my sleeve fellow, I can also be super callous. There are people on my team at work whose desk is within a five metre radius of mine. It’s been months since we last spoke. Some dude left today (loud chewing guy) and I realised that over the past two years I’ve maybe had two conversations that weren’t about the job. I didn’t even bother to wish him farewell because he basically seemed like a stranger to me. It’s rare for me to try and force a connection if it doesn’t fit easily. I’m fine essentially ignoring others if it’s not a meet-in-the-middle style arrangement. If they’ve got no interest in reaching out, why would I bother? As a result, I’ve built up better relationships with some of my water cooler chat buddies than people who sit across from me. I dunno. Some people just don’t click with you, right?

Maybe I should’ve asked the dude to look at my genitals to see if there was any chemistry.

Do you believe in life after Doug?

For some circles, last night was a tense night in Ontario politics.

A super brief recap: The three leading parties were PC (Progressive Conservatives – right leaning), Liberals (centre left) and NDP (New Democratic Party – left leaning). Liberals previously led the province. People seemed to hate their leader, Kathleen Wynne, for some reason. I really don’t know why. She seems to have done a fine enough job and nothing major has gone wrong. *Shrug*. I didn’t see what everyone’s issue was with Hilary either. Anyway. Libs had been super down in the pre-voting. Oh, get this, Ontario is still First Past the Post. Fucking ridiculous, right? Doug Ford was elected leader of the PC party, which seemed cause for consternation for a bunch of people. Why? Because his brother , former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, was infamous for smoking crack, being generally aggressive, corrupt and incompetent. He’s dead now. It’s since come out that Doug has been mismanaging their family business and pilfering from Rob’s family savings to fund his campaign. A campaign with no concrete platform. He’s largely cut from the same cloth, so many of my friends are concerned. His principle seems to be to provide tax cuts by cutting social initiatives. Seems shortsighted to me, but I’m not in politics. What do I know? Oh, and Andrea Horwath is the NDP leader. She seems fine.

It took all of 15 minutes post polls closing to get the results. It was a pretty clear sweep for the PC party. If we had some kind of proportional representation, a coalition between NDP (the new head of the opposition) and the Libs would be running the province. Instead, PC with 40% of the votes are on top. It’s a head scratcher for sure. Also the Libs lost party status by only getting seven seats. Facebook today has been awash with friends voicing their fears and girding their loins for battle. A lot of feelings. Friends saying stuff like “if you voted PC, please remove yourself from my friends list”, etc etc. I get it. It’s emotionally charged and challenging. I’m not gonna tell anyone how to feel. I’m not sure if I have any right leaning friends anyway, but I think there’s a bit more nuance to the situation. I had a few conversations…

“Looking at the ridings, these were not your peers. Most of downtown Toronto went NDP. It’s a lot of small town Ontario, people who live a very different lifestyle and are very much outside the sphere of our influence. I’m just spitballing, but it feels like the kind of rhetoric that circles in these communities is in stark contrast to ours. Prioritising social initiatives for those who need them likely isn’t as big a concern for many small town PC voters. But they’re hearing that they could have more money in their pockets for them and their family and that makes sense in their mind.”

“I don’t think there’s a silver lining to all of this. At the same time, I’m not sure that Ford winning suddenly means your neighbour is your enemy? Much as I’m disappointed, I really don’t want to fall into the condescending notion of “well small town people are just idiots” or anything. I’m sure it’s not that they’re aggressively anti-humanist, but that the bulk of PC voters just flat out don’t think about the issues we care about. Like, they wouldn’t encounter them in their daily life, so it’s unlikely they even realise that they’re issues. Most of them are probably totally reasonable, but blissfully ignorant of how this would affect others.

Before any of us knew any better, how would we have known?

It’s four years. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking that people who need support will likely not have access to all of the resources they require. Fingers crossed it’s not gonna have as big an impact as we dread. I don’t think we’re all gonna die. If things go pear shaped, we can only hope things change next time around.”

Can we at least get past First Past the Post already? That’s some regressive, antiquated shit right there.

Some might say I’m Tommy Lee Jonesing to use these skills

Very few of my Saturdays are filled with learning. Their normal M.O. is brunch, coffee and maybe some form of hangout.

Today’s Saturday ventured right outside its traditional territory. I’m going away to a regional Burning Man next week. Part of the Burning Man ethos is giving back, which means volunteering your time for acts of service. You’re expected to pick up a volunteer shift at some point throughout the burn. I’ve got no issue picking up MOOP (Matter Out Of Place), but I figured I could be put to a different use than that. I volunteered for Sanctuary, which is a place that individuals in a heightened state can come to get grounded. It’s filled with all manner of soft and warm plounge things, stuffed toys and blankets. There are colouring books and people who have education in talking people down from places of stress or anxiety. As I learned in today’s education session, Sanctuary isn’t an I want a chill space sort of deal. One of Burning Man’s central tenets is Radical Self-Reliance, or the ability to take responsibility for yourself. Part of this involves a community providing care for their own. Sanctuary is more in line with the Men In Black “Last line of defence against the worst scum of the universe” mentality. Sorry, MENtality. If someone’s in an extreme altered state or unresponsive, we provide support or facilitate with Rangers or First Aid as to the best course of action. It’s pretty worthwhile work.

For eight hours, we learned about how to facilitate these experiences. We learned how to and not to act, what to and not to say. It was mostly clearer than my previous sentence. It was altogether a pretty large group, and the length of the session really reinforced how seriously they take this service. It was a pretty wide swath of ideas and concepts, from things that seemed intuitive to all new techniques. A large part of the focus was on teaching us that we weren’t there to solve any problems. We weren’t there to provide suggestions, counselling, therapy or answers. Our role was to ground our subjects and provide space where they’d be able to come back to Earth. Maybe with colouring books.

That sounds glib, it was more than that. There was a big focus on Active Listening as a prime technique. Active Listening, if you’re not familiar, is a technique that centres around re-framing what the subject has said as a way of making them feel heard and understood. Example:

A: It’s really shitty that my Mum won’t trust me to go out to this party on my own. I’m not a fucking kid anymore.
B: That sucks. It sounds like you feel more responsible than she gives you credit for.
A: Exactly!

Or something of the like. There’s a lot more to it than that. There are non-verbal cues or verbal punctuation (grunts of affirmation, etc) that show your subject that you’re paying attention and listening. There’s the principle of leading them to realise what they need or affirm it for you. Basically, you’re guiding them to find answers of their own. I’ve got a lot of absurdly emotionally acuitive people in my life (I mean, I live with one) so a lot of it seemed second nature to me. We split into groups of three to practice, one would be talking, one active listening and the other observing. It was really interesting being the observer, taking into account how others conversed and showed active support.

Another demonstration we had was on the differences between looking/listening/feeling both outward and inward. Outward looking would be seeing things with our eyes. Inward looking would be closing our eyes and looking with our imagination. Outward listening would be taking in audio stimuli. Internal listening would be hearing our inner voice, sounds our brain would produce. Outward feeling would be attuning to physical sensations. Inward feeling would be understanding how the emotional attachment to those stimuli. If this sounds pointless, there’s more. So often when we’re concentrating on one of these six channels, we blank out the other ones. Some are heightened, while others are relaxed. When someone is in a heightened state, it’s often in a number of these channels, while the unused ones remain relaxed. If they’re having trouble being overstimulated, focusing their attention to the relaxed states can help reduce that stimulation and lower stress. It’s not a matter of saying specifically “hey bro, listen inward now”, but more about guiding them through their experience to find a peace of sorts. It’s grounding. Comforting.

Honestly, the inward/outward sensation piece was a pretty useful tool. So many times when I’m feeling stressed or anxious, it’s in one of these areas. Refocusing to a calmer place could do wonders for overall mood. Spending my Saturday effectively in class isn’t my usual preference, but it’s gonna be a pretty warm feeling being able to help others in times of need.

It’s not like brunch is going anywhere any time soon.

Also why was it okay for Sasha Baron Cohen’s character to have a fake Indian accent?

For the first time in years, I had a date last night. Not one of my friend dates, but a date date. It was swell.

Not to kiss and tell, but it was also one of the first sweet and innocent nice dates I’ve had in ages. We planned on watching a movie. She came over and we chatted for long enough that we realised we hadn’t chosen a movie yet. We worked out our parameters and picked Madagascar, then spoke the whole way through it. It didn’t look like we were missing much. We both had work the next day, so we shared a nice kiss goodnight and promised to do it again soon.

I’m tentative to overuse the word “nice”, because it’s so often a synonym for “boring”, but it really was. We both have other partners, so it’s not like we had anything to prove. It having been a while since I’ve dated, I kind of wanted to move slow anyway and it was fantastic that she picked up on that. We’ve both enjoyed hanging out in group settings, but it was so gosh darn groovy to actually get to know one another outside of fleeting conversations at parties.

It’s easy to forget at times that people contain unspoken multitudes. We get so wrapped up in all the ephemera of our daily lives that connecting to others gets pushed to the side. I can’t believe how many close adult friends I have who I have no idea how they make a living, for instance. Many of whom I’ve shared intimate emotional space with. It’s difficult to make them a priority when I’m under this illusion that I’m always busy. Then I’ll look up and realise I haven’t seen one of my close friends in months. In my early 20s when I was seeing my immediate circle most weeks, this would’ve seemed insane. At times I’m almost cowed by how many incredible, creative people I have a mere message away. Then I’ll share a meal, a drink, or even a lengthy conversation with them and feel almost overwhelmed. People are so often even more impressive than we give them credit for.

It’s something I was angling to access more with my I Have My Dates project, currently on hiatus because, yes I did get very busy for real. Now that I’ve got a big camping trip a mere week and a half away, I’ve got even less spare time. On one hand after re-experiencing unexpected connection, I feel guilty that I’m keeping it at arm’s reach for the next ten days. On the other hand, it’s the sort of experience that I’ll welcome with open arms on the camping trip. If anything, this date was a reminder of the simple joys that come from getting to know someone better.

If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

The next time I meet a band, I bet I’ll escalate and ask if I can speak to their manager

Look everyone. I’m a boring adult. I send CSR complaints to companies now.

Hi there

I’ve been a customer with you for about 4 years now. For the most part it’s been great, with no major issues. I phoned today to check the status of my credit card. It’s set to expire at the end of the month and I still haven’t received a replacement card. I thought that was cutting it close, so I called.

I spoke to a CSR who told me that the company had sent one a few months back, but it was returned to sender. He said I’d need to provide an updated address to send the new card and it’d be sent through. Easy enough. I mean, it was slightly odd that there was no communication from your company that it’d been sent back (especially since I’ve selected email correspondence with you), but we’ll skip past that for the moment. He put me through to a colleague that he said would be able to verify my address and get the card sent.

She answered, then took a look at my account. She told me that because of certain criteria the company has, they would not be able to send a replacement card. It would instead expire and I could reapply for my account in six months. I questioned her on the criteria and she rattled off a list (account in good standing, no late payments and something I’d imagine was a CSR speak for a credit rating).

I was baffled, because everything had seemed to be going alright up to then. I questioned her again on why the company could not just send me a new card, since I’d never been an egregious customer, had always paid on time and wouldn’t it be in their best interests to keep me as a customer? She said unfortunately no, the account would expire and I could reapply for my account in six months. I asked her if she could further clarify exactly what I’d done to make it necessary to close my account and she repeated what she’d said about the company having certain criteria verbatim.

Look, I’ve done call centre work. I know what it’s like being on her side of the call and basically reading from a call flow chart. It’s one thing to read out loud what you see on a page or repeat rote learned sentences, but it’s another thing to not be able to use logic as a conduit and translate to a customer in plain words. Getting pretty frustrated that a routine call to replace a card was turning into a situation where I’d be having my credit card halted and me left without my account, I asked to speak to a supervisor. She put me on hold.

She came back to apologise and tell me that she could send out a new card. That the situation she was outlining was only in the case of her not being able to update my address information. Which is exactly what the first CSR said. Why was she going for the forfeit option first instead of just asking me to update my information? I was angry and worked up from our recent conversation, but I was at least relieved I didn’t need to close my account. I got her to send out the card. She’d created an unnecessarily stressful situation for no reason, other than not understanding what was going on and giving wrong answers from the call flow chart. It’s one thing for these kind of mistakes to happen when you’re trying to order a pizza, it’s another when your finances and state of living are at stake.

I’m a pretty reasonable person and I understand that people make mistakes. I’m sure credit card call flows are pretty complicated. However in this case, if I hadn’t asked to escalate she was most likely going to say that there was nothing that could be done. I would’ve hung up, been without a credit card and without a doubt leave President’s Choice to go to a competitor. Which would be a shame, because I’ve liked banking with your company. I feel like I’ve dealt with this employee before over my time with your company and it’s often ended up in misinformation or escalation. I’m not calling for her head or trying to get her fired. I very much think she needs some kind of supervisor conversation or further training. I can’t be the only one she’s misled. I don’t know if there’s some way to check the call logs or schedule, but I spoke to her around 1.30pm Eastern.

I’d quite like to keep banking with your company. I’d prefer not to have more situations like this.