Okay, so I looked up the word “irascible”. Get off my back. And lawn.

I’ve spent enough days staring at this blank page blankly to know that the best way to steer out of it is to merely start. I know that addressing a central theme is the easiest way to burst out of the gates exuding chutzpah, but when all else fails, simply taking the lead until an idea forms can suffice. By this point, four years in, I expected that daily writing would’ve gotten easier. Half the point of this exercise was to stimulate that forebrain and jog my front of mind-ed-ness. Given the past sentence, you can see that it hasn’t been a total success. Yes, I’ve written each day, but I’d hoped by now I would’ve found more improvement with the 1400+ entries I’ve committed to the page. That’s a lot of words, though how many of those are unique is another question entirely. I’ve written a lot, but my skills haven’t risen with the word count quite like I’d expected.

Of course, I’ve always fallen into the trap of expectations. As a kid I rarely had to struggle through work, which in turn failed to develop a backbone of discipline and effort in order to overcome tricky situations. Things kind of came naturally to me and even if I didn’t put in a heap of hard work, I’d usually do okay. As the years progressed life got more challenging and as a recurring theme, I stopped putting in effort. If I couldn’t simply roll up and do it, was it actually something I wanted to do? I’m not saying that I’m lazy in every aspect, but often when the going gets tough, I go elsewhere.

At the moment I feel like I’m stuck in some form of rut. This ain’t a unique moment. Rather, it seems like this vague ennui rolls around multiple times per year. My mindset right now is creatively, professionally, interpersonally and motivationally mired. While my job isn’t a shitshow, it’s very unfulfilling and easy to phone in because I’ve been doing it for so long. This results in a slog of a workday that feels like it’s chipping away at something inside. How long before I give up, buy a TV and watch reruns of Last Man Standing (too soon?)? Work bumming me out overflows insidiously into other areas of my life. The lack of creativity in what I do affects how I see myself represented. This digs at my self-confidence, skimming away at my seminal (screw me, I was looking for a synonym for “creative”) energy (plus “seminal energy” is fun to say. This is my circus and I’ll let it run rampant as I see fit). If I’m feeling shitty about how others may see me, I’m not raring to put myself out there for others to see. I withdraw from social obligations and turn into a irascible old hermit. I GET OLD SOMEHOW, YOU GUISE.

I always surface from this rut, but through distraction rather than progression. I’ve been trying to move into other avenues of work, potentially more fulfilling jobs. These attempts have come with multiple disheartening rejections. While my mind is screaming that I’m at an impasse, I’m sure this isn’t the case. I am however unsure of what to do. The answer is most likely to dig in and upskill, or put myself out there in my own time. The problem though is that these ideas smack of good honest hard work and that makes my brain crave familiar and safe spaces. Effort is difficult and failure is terrifying. Improvement doesn’t come easily, but continuing to go through the motions isn’t sending me anywhere help. Is this why people get life coaches? So someone else can do the hard yards of telling them what to do?

OH WAIT GUISE. WHAT IF I BECAME A LIFE COACH? THEN I COULD FEEL FULFILLED TELLING OTHER PEOPLE WHAT TO DO WHILE NOT HAVING TO MAKE ANY PROGRESS MYSELF.

Spoilers: People ran a lot. We drank accordingly.

I think I may have found one of my new favourite events in Toronto: Drunken Cinema. Have you ever played one of those ridiculous movie drinking games? Every time condition x or y is met take a drink, etc etc? Same thing, but instead of being crammed into a sweaty dorm room you can be crammed into a noisy bar full of drunken louts. The rules are simple: Follow the convoluted rules. See? Easy.

Last night’s event was 1987s The Running Man, a classic Arnie film I’d never been fortunate enough to discover as a child. I’ve got no doubt in my mind that if I had, I would’ve seen it at least 30 times by now. Instead I saw it at the age of 30, but with enough alcohol to imbue me with a childlike sense of wonder. It all comes out in the wash, it seems. One of my new to Toronto friends came out with me and we managed to squeeze into the last two available chairs. We sat at a table of friendly strangers all looking to get the most out of the experience. The dude sitting next to me was a little boorish, but got his comeuppance in the end. The crowd in general had the right attitude. Everyone was raring to go and, while loud, people were rarely dickish. There was a moment when the host was trying to explain the rules to the bar, only to be faced with drunken murmurs. It really brought home how similar drunkards are to children.

The rules (as far as I can remember) were as follows:

  • Whenever someone onscreen is running, everybody drinks.
  • Each table was assigned a Stalker (bad guy). Whenever they appeared onscreen you had to cheer your lungs out for them. Ours was the quick-to-perish Sub Zero.
  • One player at each table is designated the Cup Master. At any point they can drop a chocolate coin in the cup and everyone has to start “climbing for dollars” (it’s a film in-joke). Whoever the last person to climb is (miming a climbing action) has to drink. Whenever a Stalker appears on screen, the Cup Master gets passed to the person on their left.

There were also individual rules on each table. A stack of cards were face down and got randomly distributed around the table. If you had a Personal Rule, you flipped it up and let everyone see. When your condition was met, you had to drink. If you didn’t, anyone else could press the buzzer and remind you to do it. Some of the rules I saw were:

  • Take a drink whenever ICS (evil agency) appears on screen (pretty damn often).
  • Take two drinks whenever “Bakersfield” is mentioned.
  • Take a drink whenever a “code” is input.
  • Take a drink whenever Arnie has a cheesy one-liner.
  • Take a drink whenever someone dies onscreen (fucking brutal).

There were also a subset of Secret Rules. These ones you didn’t show to the group, but whenever their condition was met you pressed the buzzer and made someone drink. You didn’t have to reveal why, they just had to trust you that they’d fucked up. My secret rule was making someone take two drinks whenever they referenced another Schwarzenegger movie or role. I caught surprisingly few people, so by the end I resorted to entrapment techniques of making my own Arnie references, causing others to burst into their own.

I can’t tell you much about the movie, because I spent most of it drinking. It was rad seeing other tables all going through the same experiences in their little microcosms. Seeing who had gotten which conceit and how their responses reflected your table’s. There was a sense of camaraderie with the communal drinking cards. Every once in a while you’d catch other tables “climbing for dollars” or laughing uproariously. The boorish dude ended up getting the “drink when someone dies” rule and wound up passed out face down on our table. The movie was violent and the game, accordingly, left few survivors.

My friend and I had a total blast and I won a spot prize of store credit to a video rental place. So shout out to Queen Video, I guess? I half-wish I had any home video technology that could play your rentals, just to get use out of my win. It was a messy night of good (not so) clean fun and if you’re in Toronto, you should check out their I Know What You Did Last Summer double feature next month.

Because what good is a liver you don’t regularly test anyway?

Solipsister Act.

It sometimes surprises me how self-aware my dreams are. Last night I found myself at work. Well, in a new job anyway. I’d been employed at some large theatre (in the musicals and one person shows sense) but it wasn’t immediately clear what I did. I sat at a piano mounted somewhere within the crowd. I had my own little area, but was totally enmeshed in the audience. I wasn’t facing towards the stage, more so I was on the left hand side, looking towards the centre of the seating. Right in the middle, there was some dude with a massive keyboard/organ contraption. In retrospect he must’ve been blocking everyone behind him. No complaining from the cheap seats, I guess.

This fella was the main musical maestro of the show. A one man orchestra, he handled a ridiculous assortment of tunes, fingers tickling the keys like little spider legs. On the other hand, I sat at my old ragtime piano, dressed like an usher in a vintage movie theatre. A blazer with those gold buttons on both sides. Little cap and everything. I told the musician dude that I was flattered, but ill suited for the position. I had no musical talent and couldn’t even read it. He told me not to worry, that it was a player piano. Entirely automated. All I had to do was sit there and make it look like I had some idea of what I was doing. Okay, so I was an actor then? I could handle this.

Time passed and shifts came and went. For some reason I was a crowd favourite, even though I’d told my secret all my friends who came to see the show. Nonetheless I was a hit, profiting off the hard work of some piano robot. Fine by me. I settled into my new life away from the television industry and time passed pleasantly. After a while I began training new recruits. One show night I’d been working with a new guy, but he couldn’t find his uniform. It was cutting close to the show. We searched all the dressing rooms, backstage, through the props and costume rooms, but found zilch. I heard the opening notes playing out from the theatre and realised I was just about to miss my cue. The fucking show had started! I bolted out as fast as I could. I got to my piano and faced an angry crowd. Our resident maestro threw down his hat and stormed out. The crowd looked towards me expectantly.

All of a sudden I heard a voice from the audience. It was my girlfriend singing some pop song. After a beat or two, backing music slipped in behind her, likely from the sound tech in the booth out back. The crowd turned to her and started clapping. She finished and bowed. Then someone else from the crowd rose up and picked a song. Once again, accompaniment kicked in right away. Sound techs earning their keep many times over. Then another. The show turned into karaoke en masse. Success!

Not all voices were equal and my girlfriend was very clearly the star. She had a better vocal range and projection than the rest of the amateurs. It didn’t go unnoticed. After the surprise hit of the show, I took her aside to thank her.

Me: That was amazing. Thanks so much for filling in.
Her: It felt like the right thing to do, plus I had fun.
Me: Yeah. Well you were clearly better than the rest of the crowd. Your vocal range in particular.
Her: Don’t be silly. This is your dream, right? So in reality while I seem like me, I’m just another projection of you. That means you’re the one with the great vocal range.
Me: That’s not how dreams work. Like, I may have created you as a character, but that doesn’t mean that your skills in this dream translate to real life.
Her: You’re totally wrong.
Me: No way. I dream that I have telekinesis or Spider Man powers all the time in dreams. That never happens in real life.
Her: We’ll just have to disagree then. So are you gonna write about this tomorrow?
Me: I guess. Unless something momentous happens during the day. I’ve got nothing else remarkable to write about.
Her: Is this really that remarkable a dream?
Me: Well if you don’t think so in this dream, then I guess I don’t either. Let’s leave that to any readers to decide.

Perhaps I’d think better on my feet if I spent less time on my arse.

Well it turns out I still suck at improv. I tried the drop in class last night, and came out with two conclusions: Firstly, yes, I am terrible on the fly. Secondly, I really want to get better. Make no mistake, I had fun, but it was difficult and I spent the class oscillating between joy and panic. We played a couple of games under the guidance of our teacher as she fed us small snippets of advice. Good ones too that seemed simple but didn’t feel instinctive. The idea that your goal is to make your partners look good. The idea of establishing a who/what/where/why when entering a scene. The idea that it’s best to grasp for simple concepts, that it’s not about trying to be funny but instead aiming to make the scene work. To start low tension in order to have headroom. All excellent advice that I forgot in the heat of the moment. Even without stakes, it felt like there were and I shrunk from my first thoughts, slowing my process.

First and foremost, I’m too far in my head. For some reason in everyday conversation I’m fine pulling out all kinds of bollocks, but when there’s an audience I get embarrassed. Even if it’s an audience of friends or classmates. My first thought pops up and I quash it. At least five times I had an idea or word pop into my head. I started thinking about how everyone would respond to it, what they’d extrapolate about me for thinking that way. Whether it’d lead to me being gradually ostracised (seriously. Can’t help how my brain works) and I’d shy away from it, scrabbling for something else. Then another classmate would say the word I’d be thinking of and it worked well. Another issue is freezing up merely by being on the spot. Having to think of a profession or activity seems monstrously difficult, when I know I’d be able to do it without strife in a normal, carefree environment. Then when I do have thoughts, they stay super linear, being terrified to stray from a safe path.

The games were neat. We played one called Convergence where two people count “one, two, three…” and say the words in their head. The goal from then on is to find the word “in the middle” of those two words. Everyone’s working together to move towards this “convergence”. After two people say the words they thought were in the middle, those become the next round’s words in which to find the middle word..It doesn’t have to be literal (after my brain told me the middle word between a chair and a snake was a body pillow), a general concept is fine. It’s incredibly fun and goddamn rewarding when it finally comes together.

We did the classic Word at a Time, where you tell a story one word at a time. I found this challenging. Not difficult to come up with words, but difficult not to try and lead sentences in a particular direction I had in my head. It’s not like my partner would be on the same wavelength. Because of this, both times I played my partner and my story went nowhere. Zero narrative. It was fun, but challenging. Our last game was to start doing some kind of action. Then our partner would come in and establish who we were, what the situation was and we’d put together a short (under a minute) scene. Then we’d swap around and our partner would come up with the action. I remember seeing others perform and having thoughts like oh, a gym? That’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that? I’d criticise myself for thoughts before and after putting them out there, just a cacophony of negative self-talk. It’s tough to move past but getting there would do wonders for me.

After the class finished (and at 45 minutes, it sped by) I immediately wanted to go back and improve. I started trying to work out when I could next return. There’s this combination of terror and excitement and I feel impatient to come out the other end.

Feeling outclassed? Get your learn on!

If there’s one skill I’ve honed over my past 30 years on this planet, it’s building up an impressive flight response. My flight response is so swole it’s surprising that I haven’t ended up Forrest Gumping off into the wilderness, imbibing nourishment only from sunbeams I photosynthesise. If there’s one thing I love more than getting shit done, it’s finding any excuse not to get shit done. If I could be accountable to nobody, not even myself, that would be my ideal existence. Consequence feels so anathema to my being that getting up every day should be acknowledged as a much larger accomplishment than it is. If I’m scared of something, I’m highly adept at turning and running in lieu of facing those fears.

Which is why I guess it’s good that my friend couldn’t hang out tonight. I’ve been meaning to head along to drop-in improv classes for some time, but handy excuses have popped up without effort. It’s gotten to the point where I was aiming to work out tonight in an attempt to dodge improv class. After 15 years, working out remains something that I force myself to do day after day as opposed to gleefully anticipating it. Improv is something new, therefore terrifying. It’s a skill I struggle with and constantly makes me feel like I’m about to fail. Getting trapped in any kind of situation relying on improv is an anxious razor’s edge that I’m certain will cause me to plummet. Flashes of Carrie rotate in my brain. They are all gonna laugh at me. So I could just not.

I was a drama kid, so of course I faced improv on the regular. That didn’t mean I improv-ed. It’s always been a struggle, I get mentally choked up and it’s hard to go with my instinct when my instinct tells me I’m about to be impaled with negative reactions. My nerves get the better of me and my mind stutters, I choke (in a freestyle rap manner), feel sheepish and fail to deliver. The next time I get an opportunity to improvise, my mind casts back to the previous time I choked (whether it was three minutes or three years) and I follow suit. Unless puns are involved. I guess that’s my safety net.

Thing is, improvisational skills would help me out a bunch. First and foremost, this here piece that you’re reading right now? Improv. I’m putting to paper (metaphorically, of course) the thoughts that’re beamed from my brain to my fingers. If I had better control over how to structure or select from my available pool, wouldn’t that contribute to more enriched writing? What about the Pawdcast? It’s a wonder I manage to talk as much shit as I do bouncing off my co-host, but my ability to yes, and… is severely limited. Oh the places we’d go if only I could come along for the journey. Or my RPG playing. That’d certainly blossom from an increased ability to think on my feet (while I sat on my arse). My girlfriend is fantastic when it comes to improvisational character work and it’s awesome to see. I get mildly envious that I feel so green in comparison (yes, that was intentional) and I’d love to be able to go toe to toe with her and help lift my contribution to the campaign with it.

I’m tired of being scared and feel like it’s time to take action over it. If anything, at least I’ll raise the bar when it comes to making creative excuses.

If The Gang started a church would they Cultivate Mass?

Is it possible to have watched five seasons of show and still feel like a filthy casual? I certainly did last night at my friend’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia party. I watched the show years back and always enjoyed it, but had trouble bingeing episodes. The characters were such terrible, sociopathic human beings that I found it taxing to spend too much time with them. I thought it was hilarious and novel, pushing episodes into constantly unpredictable territory. Even so, it took me an age to get as far as I did. At some point I meandered off into other fictional worlds and never came back. Leaving me totally blindsided by the fact that there are now 12 seasons with a few more on the way. Insane. As a huge fan of FX Network’s support for creator driven content (Louie, Legion, Better Things, You’re the Worst, etc), I feel kind of indebted to IASIP for trailblazing and making it all possible.

I’d been catching up on important episodes using this handy dandy guide, but I’d only managed to get through five or so in the past week or two. Meaning that walking into the party was like taking a running leap into a bizarre wonderland. A couple of concepts seemed vaguely familiar, but for the most part it seemed an unreal mockery of the outside world. My friend always cranks her theme parties up to 11 and this was no exception. She’d decorated all the rooms with artwork from the series and imagery from various episodes. The “Pepe Silvia” and “Carol” conspiracy was strewn across the wall and the “Nightman” sun lit up the lounge. The playlist for the evening was composed purely of songs used in the show and there were games. OH, there were games.

What kind of Always Sunny party would it have been without “Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games? The contest of strength was a game of twister, albeit with the various colours switched for iconic IASIP imagery. Denim Chicken, Original Hitler, Green Man and Rum Ham proved the battleground for drunken twisting. I took part in the contest of spirit, in a game that I understood zero percent. It was a four part contest whereby we had to “huff glue” (or rather, hyperventilate into a paper bag ten times), skull a beer then eat “cat food” (potato salad in gold painted cans) and “fall asleep” (lie down) before the “cats” (everyone else at the party) began to meow. Don’t ask me, but I’m sure it’s relevant. All I know is after years of negligence, skulling a beer is much harder than it used to be. I did most of it in one go, with a tiny sip left at the end. One of the contestants wasn’t so lucky, as she daintily sipped away while a catcophony surrounded her.

I’d planned to be sooo clever by bringing canned spaghetti in ziplock bags for people to snack on. Turns out I’d bought fucking Spaghettios by mistake. Curse this damned country and its novelty shaped foods. Fortunately the host had made her own real spaghetti for guests’ convenience. A partygoer had enough foresight to make an actual rum ham. It was surprisingly delicious. Suitably drenched and well roasted in rum. I felt well roasted after eating some anyway. I bought some “Milk Snacks” which I’d hastily written over in vivid to say “Milk Steaks” (though in my oversight I’d forgotten to bring jelly beans – raw). Someone even filled a large jug with “Riot Punch”, which made its way around most of the party. Glorious commitment to the theme all around.

If anything after the party I still feel like just as much of a damn dirty amateur. Though now with an insatiable thirst to learn more. Also for Fight Milk.

Much as he would seem a southpaw, Buddy was a retriever, not a boxer.

If finding a copy of Monkey Up at Dollarama a couple of weeks back wasn’t a sign that we need to start the Pawdcast up again, then this definitely is. I’m starting a super low key grassroots campaign to see if we could host the event. Because what’s to lose? The Pawdcast might not be family friendly, but we’ve absorbed enough wholesome entertainment that I’m sure we could fake it. The concept is bonkers, of course, but just crazy enough to make sense. Imagine, my co-host and I standing in the Harbourfront Concert Stage introducing a film about a basketball playing pup to an audience of parents, children and oblivious stoners because one day two years ago I thought the concept of a golden retriever doing back handsprings ad infinitum was funny enough to record a friend and I chatting about its wider mythos for hours.

Buddy never did back handsprings, but he sure did capture our hearts.

It just dawned on me that it’s been almost five months since we last recorded an episode. That’s crazy. We resolved to come back once the weather was warmer and that’s barely been happening in the past couple of weeks. Five months. Fuck. I suppose in having some semblance of a social life again (or at least remembering what my girlfriend’s face looked like, rather than passing like ships in the night), it was too hard to track time as it zoomed past. Five months. I guess that makes sense. I own a beard now. Or maybe it owns me…

The Pawdcast was a lifesaver last year. Much as I dreaded being constantly busy. Much as I dreaded having to sit through children’s film after children’s film. Much as I dreaded having to think of how to fill an hour or more of podcast every two weeks, I needed it. Being stuck in a job that I wanted out of after six months, I had to have a solid creative outlet that would push me to branch out of my comfort zone. The Pawdcast provided that. Writing/voicing parody trailers was tough work at first, but I did it. Getting back into the grind of audio editing was slow going at first, but after a few episodes I got back up to speed. Building up chemistry with new guests week after week was daunting, but I had no choice, so I went with it. Doing these things helped re-awaken long dormant mental muscles and brought back a part of me I thought I’d lost to the daily grind. For all my talk of dreading the work involved, that’s just my natural response to being challenged. It’s not something I enjoy, but it’s something I know is essential for me to keep up momentum or elsewise collapse.

Unfortunately, much as I’m into forcing myself back into the magical world of the ABCU, it’s not on the cards right away. The Pawdcast is not just me, it’s a small team who are all vital to our little operation. Our producer has a sketch group she’s assistant producing. My co-host has jumped off the freelancing train and into full-time work that’s taking up more of his energy and time than he can spare for another project right now. We’re gonna have to stay on hiatus for at least another few months. So Monkey Up will elude me for a little while yet.

The question now becomes, what do I do with myself? I’m still in that dead end job, with no way out on the immediate horizon. It’s an energy vampire that gives me no creative outlet. If I don’t funnel intention into some new endeavour soon I’m gonna regress into going through the motions. I’ve been me long enough to understand these patterns and they don’t head to a desirable destination. I had a writing room I wanted to set up with friends, but people were too busy at the time. Maybe “now” aligns for everyone. I wonder if there are skills I could be upkeeping by giving myself little projects. More audio editing, perhaps? I’d been thinking of taking some improv classes to help foster that mental alacrity. Maybe it’s time to work at letting my brain keep up with my mouth. Or could I finally pick boxing back up after years and mould myself back into shape?

I need something, whatever it is. Because when I get bored, I stagnate. Which seems awfully unbecoming for one of Toronto’s foremost Air Bud enthusiasts. What Would Air Bud Do?