Any child who hates burritos hates freedom and must be destroyed.

After harping on about how much I loved seeing movies on my own, I went back out last night to watch Baby Driver with company. While I’d been severely tempted to sneak into Baby Driver after my screening of The Big Sick I held off. I’d promised my girlfriend I’d see one of them with her and, much as I love the cinematic experience, I love her more. Well, it’s a different kind of love. Like comparing the love you harbour for a child and how much you cherish burritos. It’s the gun-to-your-head choice that’s easy enough, but loving one doesn’t invalidate your love for the other. That being said, if your child gives you an ultimatum between them and eating burritos ever again, dump that child in a river and find yourself a sweet as fuck burrito.

If I didn’t mention it, the “company” was my girlfriend.

Zero spoilers, Baby Driver was exactly the film I wanted. Hugely stylised, slick and immaculately crafted. The rhythm of the film was in no way limited to the soundtrack (which has already soared up the iTunes charts, of course). It twisted and turned to its own beat. The choreography extended beyond action scenes to give the whole movie a glorious sense of harmony. When (not if) you see it, you’ll understand what I mean, but it’s been so meticulously composed that it’s hard not to walk away slack jawed in awe. Perfect performances all around with a cast of both old favourites and up-and-comers. It’s a film that’ll have you alternating between fits of laughter and white-knuckled clutching at the seat while you wait for your heart to catch up.

One amazing experience wasn’t enough, so my girlfriend and I sneakily crept into The Big Sick while nobody was looking.

I’d already seen it, but I knew it’d be a perfect fit for her tastes. Plus then I’d finally have someone to talk to about it. I usually have no qualms about sneaking into something, but the particular cinema we visited had small theatres that filled up quickly. My sympathy was somewhat mitigated by the fact that they’d dedicated two rows to “prime seating”, exclusive seats that cost another $2 or so per ticket. They’d also crammed an extra row at ground level where there’s usually space for thoroughfare in front of the seating. You know what? Fuck those guys. No regrets.

Once again, zero spoilers. The film was fantastic, even second time around. It gave me a deeper appreciation for structure, how the scenes stacked together. Taking a more analytical approach, it was nice to note how earned all the relationships were. Pay-offs came after trials and actions had consequences. There were nuances to dialogue with a lack of black and white villains. Even smaller characters felt fleshed out in a manner that’s all too rare. A lot of niche, but familiar faces had roles amongst big names and heritage performers. In the second screening there was an obviously Pakistani viewer who got some of the cultural jokes that everyone else missed, which was such a boon to experience. That sensation of understanding that not everything is for me, that there can be neat little jokes hidden for particular audiences, was so refreshing. It reminded me of the experience of seeing Hasan Minhaj perform Homecoming King live (which is also on Netflix now, I believe). That’s pretty high praise, trust me.

If you can, go out and support innovative, original cinema. We’re spoiled rotten having two such quality films getting summer play. Ditch the sun and enjoy the air conditioning, all while talking in a superb flick.

Or two.

Maybe I should’ve worn track pants instead?

Reporting back after Steel Rails 2017, “The Locomotion” was not played even once. A travesty if ever there was one. We did, however, get Vag Halen (the Toronto female rock cover band) busting out a series of rock anthems complete with the appropriate quantity of hip gyration. Let’s call it even.

Getting back on track after a year spent off the rails, Steel Rails 2017 was some kinda night. My girlfriend and I made a point to dress for the job we wanted (non-stop partying). She had a big fluffy red crinoline skirt, a lilac and black checkered bustier and her trusty kangaroo backpack. I was clad in my black/rainbow cyberdog leggings, a pink/purple zebra striped bra and my green smoker’s jacket (which I unfortunately discovered was not machine washable. Big time). Arriving at the party departure point, we realised very few others had put as much intention into their garb. We took this as a point of pride. It took a while to get picked up and we ended up leaving maybe half an hour after we’d expected. Of course, we had no idea where we were going, merely that a train would be nearby. Some folks were already tailgating in the parking lot. It was gonna be that kind of night.

We rode around in big yellow school buses and excitedly muttered about where we might go. Not knowing the area, it was anyone’s guess. We also played the traditional bus game of waving to bystanders in the hopes that they’d reciprocate. At some point a kid waved energetically at the bus, but nobody waved back at him. Not on my watch. I waved in an overly exaggerated manner. He saw, literally jumped with excitement and waved back. Five seconds of activity was a small price to pay for making a kid’s day. The bus turned into a parking lot next to a driving range and began to slow down. Okay, things were getting interesting. Next to the range was a large white dome. How enigmatic! We tittered and lined up to go inside. Even at the revolving door entrance, we still had no idea of what was five meters in front of us. It was time, we passed the threshold.

On the inside, the dome was massive. Carpeted in fake turf, there was so much for the eyes to take in. A miniature golf course to the left, a couple of projector screens, a bridge overhead stacked with instruments and audio equipment. There were bars set up around the space, plus a wrestling ring in the middle. A small performance space off to the right, a colourful triangle structure with pillows inside ahead. There was a witching tent and a wheel of fortune style “Find Your Apocalypse” scenario (my world will be destroyed by apes). Booze was by donation, as always. I dropped a $20 in the bucket and went hog wild. I also made sure I grabbed a boozy cherry bourbon sour ice block while I was at it. The food was tasty, but all very fast food. They had woodfire pizzas, a grilled cheese food truck and some legit fish and chips (though I swear we waited in line for 40 minutes to get them). Beer successfully soaked.

Then the train. THE TRAIN. We got on and found ourselves surrounded by Trump. We’d unintentionally settled into the Trump car. “Trump Dollars” taped around the place, dumb trump quotes suspended from the ceiling with his stupid fucking face on them. We were stuck there for a while as the train readied to leave. Plus there was a massive line to the bar in the next car, meaning we couldn’t go anywhere. It was strange, but somehow being a) boozed and b) surrounded by Trumpisms led to a rush of boorishness. A bunch of douches and douchebagguettes yelling. Some women started stuffing Trump Bucks into my bra and waistband. I wouldn’t have cared much if only they’d asked first. We got outta there as quickly as we could and checked out the rest.

Space Car was a welcome reprieve. The windows were all blacked out with tinfoil, then speckled with fairy lights and transparent black sheets to transport us to outer space. A musician created some kind of ambient dream pop sound as she plugged away at her effects machines. Space Car was relatively quiet and wound up being our favourite place to hang. Further on was a crown construction car that I didn’t visit, but my girlfriend came back with a nifty cereal box crown. Down the other end in the only carpeted car was the homecoming dance. A photographer had a wearable sash and led partygoers to pose for shots. The DJ was dropping some pretty great tunes, but shitting fuck was it ever sweaty in there. My girlfriend and I jumped into the “sleeper car” for some private time, only to find signs all over the room telling us we were being watched. I mounted her lap and gave them a show. Some dude walked in and slowly backed away. Damn straight.

We had a blast. The booze and food kept going (though having very few non-beer options this year meant we felt all sorts of bloated) all night. I found that as a guy, wearing a bra with no shirt meant people felt super comfortable coming up and grabbing me without consent. Like, I get that it’s unconventional and funny/weird to see a dude in a bra and it’s not like I was mega standoffish, but asking first would’ve gone a long way. It was a weird crowd all the way down. A bunch of magnanimous folks, some hyper normy spectators (in all likelihood, sponsors), performers, volunteers and others dressed in outlandish couture. There were more rad people than the alternative, but given the previous year I was surprised at how large that shitty minority was. At some point I was butt grinding up on my girlfriend and this woman I’d been chatting with earlier decided it was totally fine to insert herself between us. We both quirked our heads until she moved on, but it was a pretty weird moment.

The experience on the whole, though, was all kinds of choice. Tickets may sell out in an instant, but you can bet your arse I’ll be hitting those rails next year too.

STEEL RAILS FO LYFE.

Any excuse to shake my caboose.

I’m currently at work, but I’m not. Well I am, and aren’t. I took Schrödinger’s commute and logged into my work computer from home. Waking up at 8am, I was at work by 8.10am and ready to start. By merely clicking alt+tab I can zoom to and from my job through the information superhighway. The future is here, now and forever. It also means that as of about 9.30am I was 75% finished my day’s work. It’s so much faster to work without having to physically interact with my co-workers. The cat is my only vocal co-worker and to be honest, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about most of the time. So I’m free to plug away at schedules and log everything without background interference.

Why am I at home today?

Because for the second weekend in a row, I’m going out of town. Lucky me, right? The Earth has taken another lap around the sun and once again Steel Rails is upon us. Steel Rails is an amazing art party/fundraiser held annually by local paper The Community Edition. My girlfriend and I went with friends last year and had an amazing time. We were carted out to a mystery location that turned out to be an empty warehouse surrounded by steel containers. There were huge papier mâché creatures on stilts, people dressed in weird masks. Tons of interactive art exhibits such as styrofoam sculpting and celebrity/food portmanteau creations. Fortune tellers and storytelling events. Musical performances throughout the evening. Also food and drinks galore. Then we all piled back to Chainsaw in Waterloo, the archetypal small town Friday Night bar (with enough fluorescents to attract every barfly in town) and hung out with fun strangers we’d met throughout the event. It was a helluva time.

It was also an unconventional Steel Rails. The format in the past was always to load people onto a train and get them “loaded”. All booze is by donation, which means people get stupid drunk and have a riotous time. Creating a low commotion, if you will. This year, the train is back! So not only do we get to feel all manner of classy drinking on a train, but we also get Snowpiercer re-enactments. I’ll pack my hatchet. I wonder how the sushi is this year…

Because it’s a local community event and because it attracts creative types, the crowd are usually fun Fringe types. Despite the massive quantities of alcohol, I didn’t see much last year in the way of douchebaggery or douchebagguettery. People engaged in the spirit of the party and embraced the weirdness. Saying yes to adventure’s call and seeing where it could go. Last year rumours of a cult started spreading. There were printed pamphlets with trace amounts of info scattered around the event. Over the course of the evening, I not only had people ask me about my own affiliations, but giving impassioned monologues on theirs. The volunteers were all incredibly friendly and helpful and the effect was profound. I’m really excited and can’t wait for this workday to end.

But things could be worse than hanging out at home.

If I cast far enough, shit might get reel.

Sometimes a moment of clarity will just strike you from out of nowhere. Like a bolt flung from the hands (or tentacles, let’s be real here) of a deity, an epiphany. While I was voicing yesterday, somebody from the station dropped into the studio to hang out. When I came out of the booth, she introduced herself. She asked me my background and what I wanted to do. Without skipping a beat, I replied.

“I want to make podcasts.” I said. “It’s something the opposition does, but we’re really lacking behind.” Someone else chipped in “We have them.” I nodded and replied “we do have them, but the breadth of subject matter is pretty limited, which seems weird considering the vast Intellectual Properties we have access to and our company’s push for consumer engagement. If having a social media presence is so important, why not offer them cause to spend time with us while they work? Give them even more reason to engage with our brands. It’s an intimate, personal medium. Selling the idea to consumers that we’re their friends? It’s hard to buy that kind of marketing. Why not do that?” I stopped ranting. All three people in the room were quiet, nodding.

Where the fuck did that confidence come from?

I’ve had vague ideas about professionally producing podcasts before, but haven’t given it a whole lot of serious consideration. Then all of a sudden that torrent came tumbling out of my mouth. Who would pay me to do it? Where would the funds come from? Today though, I’ve been thinking about it more. Who better than a large corporation? It’s not like they’d have to invest in infrastructure. They have the equipment, the hosting. They can handle traffic and would have umpteen ways to promote it. They have on-air talent. They have content that invites both discussion and promotion. We know that there’s a market for it, given the near ubiquity of podcasting. All it needs is someone to go to bat for it.

I’ve been struggling a bit lately in multiple areas. Aside from near constant impostor syndrome (though I assume this is a universal part of the human condition), I’ve been feeling really down on myself. For years I had a fire burning, mantra of Make it Happen running through my head. I felt indomitable and pushed forward constantly. The past few years have felt like a rut professionally and I’ve started to doubt whether or not I’m a capable person. It’s been harder to get motivated and excited about things. Self-esteem has given way to recursive negative self-talk and I’ve started to stop believing that I deserve opportunities.

This past weekend was spent in the constant company of friends. A couple of them were people I’m quite close with, but most were casual acquaintances. I had an amazing time, but one thing stuck out to me. Almost universally, people there saw me as quick witted and down for anything. They assumed I took chances and opportunities, that I was creative and hard working. Good-natured, compassionate and funny. They saw me as the kind of person I want to be, a person who boldly follows their desires and makes things happen.

I feel like I used to be him. That if circumstances align, I become him again. I realised just how much I want to be as my friends see me. I want to take risks and be okay with failing. I want to put in effort because a lesson learned is the worst outcome. I want so badly to believe in myself again.

If others do, what’s stopping me?

I also came up with the band name T’ronahsaurus Rex. Now I have only to come up with the musical talent to bring it into fruition.

I think I found my best self this weekend. Away at a friend’s cottage, far from responsibility, schedules and mandatory apparel. Bare-butted, whimsical and earnest, I came and went with warmth in my heart and joy in my soul. Also puns in my mouth.

The past two days were a whirlwind of future memories. Endless rolling in-jokes and riffing. Extended bits about Guy Fieri that morphed and evolved over hours. I for one can’t wait for his cinematic debut, Mad Max: Fieri Road. With everyone in varying states of dress, somehow I became the Token Naked Guy. Others dressed to the nines, big fuzzy coats, scarves, fluffy pink slippers and glittery face paint. Constant snacking and drink top ups. Hedonism incarnate.

There was a defining element of commitment to the call to adventure. One of my favourite extended excursions centered around a Polaroid camera that was lying around. I was strolling the place garbed in an open green smoking jacket and zebra patterned boxer briefs. Very Hugh Hefner. My friend saw me standing next to a bar stacked with assorted trinkets and baubles. She told me to strike a pose and I gave her an “oh, I didn’t see you there” smise. She snapped it at the perfect moment. We watched the Polaroid develop in real time and realised the permanence of each shot. We had one take and everything needed to align. We walked downstairs into the plush 70s style basement (complete with orange shag carpet) that we’d dubbed the “Fuck Den” (because of The Implication) and found our canvas.

We began a series of 70s Playboy style shoot, each more extravagant than the last. We’d arrange the scene, finding our vision, then I’d direct the talent and create our perfect moment. There was our friend splayed seductively across the table (bowl of keys tucked in the corner of the shot). Other friends dressed in tiger and ringleader garb, her crawling predatorily up the stairs as he leashed her back. Another draped herself over the couch, covered in constellations of fairy lights. One straddling a fireplace with a fire extinguisher and logs in the foreground, cigarette hanging from her lips, lighter aflame. The shots stacked up one by one until we had a portfolio of absurdism as a reward for our efforts. A fun, manic night of revelry and delight.

I can’t hope to capture in words how much I needed this weekend, mind, heart, body and soul. Spending times awash in the giving nature and wit of close friends lightened a burden I’d been carrying for some time. In finding my best self, I hope I can find an ongoing way to represent the aspects I’d come to value over the past 48 hours. I’ve earned it.

You know who knew a thing or two about comedy? Dante.

I remember exactly when I decided I had to be funny. I was nine years old. My best friend was moving on from primary school into intermediate. My best friend was the funniest person I knew. I was not. I don’t know if I’d channelled the latent spirit of Miller, but I knew that I was liked, while my friend was well-liked. Something deep in my core told me that being liked wasn’t enough. I needed to be well-liked, as my friend was. I also knew innately that my friend leaving would throw off some integral balance in the schoolyard. We needed joy, but with him gone, that got a little bit harder. Someone needed to fill that void. My precious nine year old brain volunteered as tribute. Heavy lay the crown, but I’d worn a kippah, it couldn’t be that different.

I still feel like a fraud. Playing a role with wit coming from the head, not the heart. I’m don’t worry whether or not I’m funny, I worry about the distance between my humour and myself. All these years I’ve been searching for the kind of jokes that fit me, that feel natural. Comedy that tumbles out out my mouth without a second thought. I latch on to puns and word play because they feel safe. I love words and how they intermingle. Snide or sarcastic commentary feels safe. Using intellectualism as a stand-in for wit, because keeping the joke at arm’s length means I have time to back down from it. If I it doesn’t land and I haven’t fully committed, it lessens the sting. It minimises both negative consequences and potential.

I’ve started taking beginner improv lessons as a way to understand how to be present. I want to get more in touch with where my humour comes from and how it takes shape. Improv flies in the face of my instincts. Instead of keeping a safe distance, it forces me to jump in and commit. Instead of comparing and contrasting five different thoughts, gauging how any audience would receive them and ultimately wait for a better time to yield higher impact, improv tells me to grab the first thought and run with it. Instead of sifting through ideas for whatever makes me sound smarter, improv tells me to jump in and make it work. To trust my instincts and not back down. To listen to others and work with them. That creating harmony is a tacit contract that requires teamwork.

Our teacher told us last night, if a scene breaks up, if someone fumbles a line, take a second and get back to it. Don’t remove yourself to comment on it. You’re shifting the onus off yourself to instead point the blame somewhere else. You’re not being accountable, you’re immediately jumping off a sinking ship instead of trusting one another to fix the leak. It resonated. I immediately thought of my propensity for commenting from a safe distance. How on one hand an arm’s reach feels comforting, but also isolating. Being unwilling to fully embrace often means standing alone.

It’s easy to live a life without taking risks. Just don’t complain when things don’t get better. That needs to be earned.

Crossroads didn’t work out for Britney, why should I expect better?

To what extent do you define yourself by your occupation? Is the way you pay your rent aligned with the values you hold dear? When people ask you what you “do”, is your reaction to lead with your profession or hobbies? Or are you so disenchanted with your career that you respond with “lots of things” in order to pad for time (while you try to spin some scenario in which the world benefits from you waking up each day)?

It’s no secret that I’ve been having doubts (I mean, it’s in the fucking title, right?) about my career path for some time. For years I thought audio editing was my calling. Then after stepping off the path for the sake of a relationship and leaving the hellhole of Rotorua, I had to look for something else. I grasped around and in lieu of a career, I found jobs to fill the void. After the relationship imploded I bought a ticket to Canada ostensibly to start anew, but realistically to stave off asking the big questions for a few years. I surmised that the city of Toronto would offer a world of opportunity, and it has. Not necessarily in every capacity I’d hoped. After tripping over my feet for a year, I found them lodged in the door of a prominent media company. A promising path on which to find momentum if ever there was one.

The problem is, I haven’t budged. Despite desire and skills to move onwards, I feel firmly lodged where I stand. I can’t help but feel it’s a combination of naivety, inflexibility, laziness and indecision. I’m not well connected here in Toronto like I was back home. The industry tends to grow from student internships. They’ll typically do an internship as part of their education, which will flow into connections and/or gainful employment. I’m not blaming this system, it’s what got me my first real job back home. What this means for a 30 year old foreigner, however, is I’m battling against a well-cemented structure. The jobs that would let me move up the ranks are either going to kids in their early 20s or popping up in small towns. Here we come to inflexibility. I love Toronto. I cherish the friendships I’ve made here and the communities I’ve joined. There’s so much going on and the city genuinely feels like a part of me. I’m in a stable long-term relationship with a live-in partner.

If I want to move forward on this path, there’s a large chance I’d need to leave that behind.

That’s a hard sell, especially because it’d be re-treading ground I covered in my early 20s. I’ve done all this before. I honed my skills as one of those kids in my early 20s. I moved away to a small town and put in the hard yards. It sucked. At the age of 30, doing that again would be heartbreaking. It’s not impossible to see this as an option, but to uproot now that I’ve gotten settled would be a sacrifice of some magnitude. I’m quite unsure whether I’ve got the fortitude of will to keep my spirit intact over that kind of transition.

The only alternative I can think of requires an immense amount of hard work.

Which is where we come to laziness and indecision. If I want to get anywhere, I need to upskill. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of capacity for me to do that at work, which means it’s something to be done in my free time. Here we come to the hard part: deciding what I want to do. Do I want to work with audio? Learn video editing? Write commercials/promos? Scenes? Comedy? Reviews? Am I interested in performance? Storytelling? Or a form of content creation that utilises all of the above? Unless I can decide what I want to focus on, it’ll be impossible to gain ground in any particular direction. In a city that values exceptionalism, journeymen aren’t employable.

So how do I pick a path?