Recycling’s gotta get us a few kudos, surely?

Hey friends. Because today is crammed with meetings, work and extra-curricular activities, I’m stuffing writing into my morning commute. Expect messiness, a lack of class and, frankly, some altogether unbecoming behaviour. Like this fucker clipping his nails at the bus stop. Aw gross, he’s just leaving them on the ground. Tiny bits of body detritus that’re other people’s problem now. Public space is his space too, I guess. I do envy the confidence emboldened by apathy of an old man. He’s given the world his youth and now feels compelled to take whatever space he wants. Though was his youth that different? I may have just described “being male”. I should look into that. It’s a hell of a union with a highly competitive benefits plan.

There’s an ad opposite me on the subway that reads “What do you call a Muslim woman flying a plane? A pilot.” I’ll admit that I first read it as “what do you call a woman flying a plane?” Accordingly, I didn’t get it. I was all hooray for gender equality branding, but didn’t understand what stereotype it was battling against. Then upon re-reading it and finding the word “Muslim” I thought, what does her religion have to do with anything? Then the pin dropped and I felt dumb for not getting it. But also kind of stoked I guess? Oh, so you just thought I’d assume she was a terrorist? Fuck you, buddy. I can only imagine how that sort of ad would age out of relevance with coming generations. How long until equality messaging becomes a relic? The hope is that kids today are​ bombarded with enough of it that it becomes matter of fact. Like drink driving ads in our youth. I’ve often talked about the brutal drink driving ads back home. The fact of the matter was that years before I even had keys put into my hands, I innately knew that “if you drink then drive, then you’re a bloody idiot.” How many generations are we from kids who grow up without preconceived notions predicated on skin colour, ethnicity or religion? Will this be something I get to see in my lifetime?

I often wonder, on a long enough timeline do people just get better? As society progresses do people continue to improve on the mistakes of their forebearers? I’m sure it’s not that simple. I’m sure there’s a give and take, that while we move forward in some areas, we also lose more than we notice. I know for a fact that I straight up don’t have many of the practical skills that my parents’ generation leaned as a matter of course. There was a necessary self-reliance that our generation simply doesn’t need. The time I could spend levelling up in any number of trades and skills, I can simply offset the work to qualified professionals and focus on what I do best. Capitalism has meant that we don’t need to be well rounded if we can excel at “our thing” instead. I also have my doubts over whether or not I’m kinder than the average so and so of my parents’ generation. I’m certainly more aware of the world at large. I have a more nuanced and considerate understanding of the socio-cultural makeup of those around me and how to be respectful of that. On the flip side, I’m leagues more entitled than they were. Because I know the world is out there and the internet tells me it’s at my doorstop, I expect to fling open those doors and take what I want. I wonder how much of my life I take for granted. Furthermore, just how much I have because of my parents’ struggles and how rarely I acknowledge that. Hell, I haven’t spoken to them for months (not intentionally. It’s up the top of my list). How entitled is that?

I don’t usually think this much before 10am. It’s like mental stretching. Maybe I’ll actually make it through today’s clusterfuck onslaught after all.

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?

Why is it so hard for adult toys to harness the same creativity?

It’s been my long-standing belief that toy design is the coolest. There’s so much that goes into it. First and foremost it’s sociological. How do kids behave? What kind of activities would excite and stimulate them? Can you provoke learning opportunities? Is it possible to make small challenges and tricks inherent to their design so that kids can overcome them and feel mastery? Then there are visual and tactile components, what kinds of colour design can you throw in to make your toy a must have? Do children naturally understand the colour wheel? Or is it possible to invert these supposed rules for a younger audience? How extensively is a new product play-tested with real children? Is it hard finding the balance between something kids would want and parents could see as suitable?

I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. Is toy design reactive or proactive? Or perhaps a combination of the two? Is there a delineation between those dreamers who imagine novel products into being and those who create within the boundaries of supplied creative briefs? Do designers shelve some designs in the hopes that an apt IP will come along? Are their tiers or hierarchies within the industry? How does one even get into the industry? What education streams lead towards a life in toy design?

I had innumerable awesome toys as a kid. This is no treatise on the state of toys today. I have no idea how toys are these days. I assume they’re just as great as ever, or even more advanced. I’m sure design technology has come a long way. I always thought Transformers were unbelievable. Not only did each toy have multiple forms with which to play, but there was a fun puzzle involved in working between them. I couldn’t believe that a robot could also be a T-Rex or a McDonalds meal. Just trying to conceive how someone’s brain could visualise the conduit between both modes was insane to me. All those twists and turns, clicks and snaps. It was contortion on a robotic level that still had to obey the laws of physics. I loved not only alternating between modes, but playing with different combinations between full transformation. A T-Rex body with a robot’s head, for instance.

I latched onto anything modular (Construx, Capsela, Iron Man, Centurions, Dino Riders, etc), but Lego was on another level. It’s pretty gratifying to see that these days it’s the world’s largest toy manufacturer (no doubt licensing with colossal brands did a wonder for them). Having a toy that encouraged uninhibited creativity (and nailed the advertising to boot) meant there was no wrong way to play. Assembling a cluster of weirdly coloured bricks or a sleek, chic, colour coordinated robot were both viable options. Inevitably (or perhaps because most of my hand-me-down stuff was 80s space Lego) I became Benny every time. Even when I bought new 90s Lego, it was mostly to re-up on cool space stuff (and to obtain those sweet, sweet translucent orange chainsaws for maximum carnage).

Imagine how cool it would be to see kids adoring something you designed. The joy you brought to others on full display. That’s some prime time personal fulfilment. I may have gotten older, but my admiration for toy designers has only grown.

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.