A brush with coat-dependence.

I’m an everyday illusionist. I wrap myself in layers of mystique set to misdirect and confuse those who cross my path. I carry with me a halo of competency that causes many to assume I’m a capable, competent individual. If they were to look closer they’d discover how very wrong their assumptions were. I run on a fake it till you make it platform. In truth, I don’t have a great many practical skills. If I were to find myself stuck in a forest alone I’d likely just wander around for a short while until I died, moaning about the lack of local pho restaurants. If anything goes wrong in the house, my default response is to wonder who I could convince through friendship or money to fix it. I’ve never had to do much in the way of manual labour, so the sight of me trying to accomplish anything constructive is laughable at best.

Which is why it was so odd for me to offer my services to friends with an overwhelming amount of home reno work to do. They’re moving soon and need all the help they can get making it look spiffy for potential buyers.

Truly I meant best, blindly flinging myself into their home before thinking of the havoc I could wreak. When my girlfriend and I arrived, I offered explicit instructions as to my use:

  • I don’t know how to do many things.
  • I will ask silly questions.
  • I will be incredibly slow at first.
  • By the time I’ve finished I will have gained some competency.
  • You will seriously wonder how I’ve survived life thus far.

My girlfriend is not an incompetent person. She’s done a ton of stuff before, so she was a lot easier to manage. They had a ton of projects for her, like sanding down a door, dusting its grooves and spray painting it. Useful stuff. Me on the other hand, they dumped on the floor and set to work. They were gonna paint the base boards/quarter rounds and needed it taped off. I also learned what base boards and quarter rounds were. Looking around my house now, I can see that they’re everywhere. I set to work right away applying masking tape to the floor and walls. At first it was significantly slow going. I was so set on getting everything tight up against the base boards/quarter rounds that I was taking an age to set anything down. I’d do small bits at a time, afraid of having even a speck exposed to potential paint. Or what if I left a smidgen of the baseboard covered? It’d never get painted and I’d no longer be trusted to help with anything, banished from their friendship for all eternity. THE WORST PUNISHMENT.

I got faster. After I’d done one corner I realised I’d need to start moving things out to get access. Their TV cabinet? Right in the middle of the floor. All those carefully wired speaker cords? GONE. I pulled out the nails they’d used to keep the cords in place, undoing all their hard work. In my head I told myself all this stuff needed to get done eventually, but it was hard to shake the idea that I was committing minor vandalism at a friend’s place. I moved around the living room putting tape down at the top and bottom of the baseboards/quarter rounds. My friend started following my work around the room, painting as she went. Eventually I finished up my taping and wanted more work to do. She instructed me to remove these box shelves on the wall then pull out the plastic screw covers drilled into the wall. There I was, balanced on a chair holding this shelf with one arm, cordless drill between my neck and left shoulder, holding a plastic zip lock bag in my left hand while carefully trying to drop the loose screw into the bag. As I said, I’m not a competent person. Though I did manage to pick up the drill between my big and index toe. That should count for something.

She had to leave to have lunch with her boyfriend, so told me to take over the painting that she’d started. Painting her house? She was trusting me? The only painting I’d done was as a child in school. I painted many shit things, the only highlights being a taniwha and myself as a werewolf. I reluctantly took up the call to adventure as she assuaged my fears. It was only the first coating, I couldn’t fuck up too bad. Had she met me? To be honest though, it wasn’t too difficult. I’m sure I wasn’t doing an amazing job, crawling on my side, but as a first attempt I think it was only slightly shabby.

Riding high on my relative success, I taped off another window alcove and set to painting. I tried to make sure I got all the corners, then got in there with a paint roller. After the handheld brush, the roller was a revelation. I made sure not to lay the paint on too thick and aimed for an even spread. By the time I’d finished, exhausted as I was, I had no concept of whether or not I’d done a good job. Then I thought hey wait a minute, this morning I didn’t know how to do any of this. The fact that I’ve done a job at all is progress enough. By the time I’d left, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and pride.

So maybe there’s something lurking behind my illusion of competence after all.

Yeah Frankie, what of it?

Often upon leaving work, I just want to go home and relax in front of the computer (so basically what I do at work anyway?). I want to eat a thing and watch a thing and maybe hang out with my girlfriend if I’m especially lucky and our conflicting schedules allow for it. Most of the time, fate tells me to fuck off. It’s rare that I get to lax out. I’ll instead go to the gym or spend time with a friend. I’ll go to some kind of event, whether it’s comedy or film related. While we’re in season, the Pawdcast chews up most of my spare hours (between episode prep, recording and editing). I wish that I could say things are calm, that I’m making the most of my downtime.

I could say that, but I’d be lying.

Last night I tried running home from work for the first time. In my head this seemed like an insurmountable task. It looked way too far and I didn’t think my body would be up for it. Then I made a mistake as innocent as forgetting to bring a towel to work. No more could I get physically active through running at lunch. I’d stink up the office with my sticky sweatiness. If I had a towel, I’d be able to use the workplace showers. NO BUENO. So I was forced to find other plans. I had a drop-in improv class to go to at 6.30pm, so I’d need to be home by 6.10pm at the latest to give me time for a shower and a bus to the theatre. That left me with about an hour to run eight and a half kilometres. Entirely achievable, right?

I put in the effort, folks. I really did. It was a sweet run. I zoomed along the waterfront like I normally do at lunchtime, but I kept on going once I reached Bathurst. I don’t know if I’d sufficiently stretched , cause my left IT band was shouting a constant stream of expletives all the way up my side. The bike path continued through some park towards The Ex. There were other joggers running with their doggos. It was idyllic. My IT band wasn’t letting up, so I took small chances to stretch every time I was stopped at a light. So like three times in five minutes. I ran up Strachan Ave, left on King and up Shaw towards Dundas. At Dundas I looked left and saw a big clock outside a hardware store. 5:52pm. At this rate there’d be no chance of getting home for a shower before class. If I wouldn’t do it to my team at work, I certainly wouldn’t do it to total strangers. I hopped on a bus and headed home, having jogged a respectable six kilometres or so.

Jogging six kilometres in 40 minutes isn’t amazing. I’m certainly not at my peak, but I’d probably average five kilometres in around 27 or 28 minutes usually. I was wondering why I’d been moving at a snail’s pace, then it hit me. Traffic lights. There’d been so many goddamn traffic lights. Each time I’d wait for a minute or so, slowing down my overall time. Bummer. The cost I pay for living in Toronto, I guess.

Into the house at 6.07pm, out of the house at 6.23pm. Reached the theatre at 6.29pm and class started a minute later. The class rushed by. Things clicked a little bit better than the week before. It felt like less of a disparity in skill levels between attendees. I was more relaxed. I tried really hard to be present and front of mind instead of keeping suggestions in my back pocket to bail me out. I hope this doesn’t come off as cocky, because I wasn’t doing anything trail blazing by any stretch, I was merely not shit. A nice change. I had a heap of fun, enough that I’ll probably sign up for the eight week class. I think there’s a ton I could learn from the training that’d extend into being more confident in my everyday goings on.

Then once class finished at 7.15pm, I grabbed a kebab and headed down to a volunteer meeting for this megagame. A friend is running a massive (60 odd people) game that’s somewhere between a model UN and D&D style roleplaying. It should be really neat, but there’s a hell of a lot of rules to wrap your head around. Something that large doesn’t get anywhere without a ton of organisation and we’re only a month off game day. Time is ticking.

Which is a clean way of saying I’ve got to GTFO. Tonight is a quieter night. Merely going to the gym then off to some info session for an upcoming camping event. Quiet indeed.

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.

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?

Plus then I wouldn’t have had access to the internet. What would the point of life be then?

I don’t think it would’ve made sense for me to be born any time before the 50s. I’m trying to think of a society I would’ve prospered in, but they all fall apart. Knowing who I am, how much I enjoy complaining and how flimsy my immune system is, I’d be ill suited to a life that existed before widespread inoculation. In medieval times I would’ve fallen for the first round of black plague, or been mowed down in the initial rain of arrows. I’m not an inherently brave person, so unless I lucked out and was born into a family of means, I’d be pretty much fucked. In the Wild West I’d no doubt contract dysentery, and in the Wild Wild West I’d stand no chance against a giant mechanical spider. I can’t see myself having excelled in the Victorian era, given my lack of concrete skills. I probably would’ve been the lackey of some merchant or an apprentice candlestick maker. The 20s through 40s were all filmed in black and white and I don’t know if my eyes would pop enough, so they’re out. In fact, if not for the age in which I was born, I think the only place for me would’ve been as a disaffected member of Gen X.

I’m being deliberately silly of course, but as I started typing my objections, I pondered how impossible it would be to predict how I’d be in any early generation. With my personality so utterly shaped by my culture (my sum of lived experiences up to this point), I’d be an entirely different person. So much of me has been sculpted from parental influences, the specific friends I’ve grown up around, my home country, my education, relationships I’ve had and (let’s be honest), the media I’ve consumed. This concept of who would I have been is erroneous from the start, because the simple answer is that I wouldn’t have have been me. I’d have been an entirely different person, a creation of my surroundings.

When I start to think about the “whys” of who I am, it wigs me out. It’s a matter of pulling at threads and seeing how far they go. I’ve changed so much even since I arrived in Toronto. For instance I was always sex positive to a point, but connections I’ve made here have led to further understanding and education of what that means, engaging in experiences I would’ve otherwise likely not had. The friendships I’ve made through the community have constantly caused me to question and restructure held beliefs. People I’ve met have introduced me to others who’ve become hugely important parts of my life. Most of which I can track back as the lasting effects of going on one particular date (of the many I’ve had in Toronto), which kick-started a chain reaction. There’s a point here where anyone could jump in and say “yes, but getting to where you are required a tacit buy-in at each new juncture”. I had to say yes at every step of the way, otherwise I likely would’ve headed down a different path. The further back I go, this only increases the massive range of who I could’ve been.

At the end of the day, picking apart how I’ve become who I am doesn’t change who I will be. Errant navel gazing doesn’t serve meaningful progress. Concurrently it’s not like the viewpoint is a total waste. Maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle. Further consideration of actions taken could help shape who I become. Which is a fine idea in theory but useless in practice. Who wants to think about things all the time?

That’s how you wind up with a project like I Have My Doubts.

A new ginsation.

It’s not every day you can feel all Mad Men at the office, but today was far from an everyday occurrence. For years, contra has been part and parcel of working at a media company. Contra budgets aren’t quite what they used to be (oh those days of student radio, skulling cases of free vodka energy drinks. It was a very good year), but occasionally we still get fun experiences rolling on through work. Today’s entertainment came via Bombay Sapphire and an assortment of paired tonics/tinctures. We had a bonafide alcopothecary in our work kitchen doing tastings.

People from assorted departments scrambled to find a vessel with which to join in. I darted back to my desk to find something, anything that could a) hold gin and b) look pretty. I returned with a one litre Pyrex beaker that I scavenged for inscrutable purposes, none of which I’d yet discovered. Finally came the beaker’s time to shine. The host regarded it with a raised eyebrow and an approving nod. He tipped a generous quantity of Bombay into my “chalice”.

He taught us how to properly smell spirits as opposed to wine. With wine, the idea is to get in and fill your nose with the scent. Spirits, having a much higher proof, benefit from a lighter touch. Open your mouth he said, to enjoy the aromas without the burn of alcohol. It made a huge difference, the flavours came through unimpeded by the alcoholic odour. Maybe this dude knew what he was talking about. I took a quaff of gin and ended up with most of it in my beard. One litre beakers are messy to drink from. With such an unwieldy vessel, it’s impossible to gauge when it’s actually gonna hit your mouth. I sheepishly traded it in for a small plastic cup.

He gave out plastic spoons and we sampled a bunch of the different flavour infusions he had on hand. A couple of variants on orange, keffir lime, lemongrass, cinnamon, lavender. The tastes varied wildly, but not just from one another. He urged us to try the small drops of infusions we were each given, then follow them with sips of gin to see how it changed the taste. Dramatically, was the answer. Adding the gin opened up dimensions in each flavour. One of them tasted kind of like jalapeños on its own, but with the gin a sweetness enveloped it. As a group he got us to come to a consensus on our favourite three infusions. After we’d decided on a cinnamon, lime and lemongrass combo, he took out a micro measure (that’s my word for it) and inserted them one at a time (quantities according to relative strength of flavour) passing around tasters with each addition. It was crazy how much the flavour grew as new infusions were mixed in.

He made up a bunch of our consensus based signature cocktail and passed them around. We were informed that in a week or so, we were gonna be sent a pre-mixed bottle of our combination, enough for thirty or so drinks. All I can say is that next Thursday will be an excellent lead in to a very Good Friday.