It’s hard to tread water when Hell has an undertow.

I’ve got nothing to write about right now. It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. I’ve hardly exhausted the world’s supply of topics in four and a half years. I probably exhausted my supply of topics several years back, but I guess I learned a thing or two from WaterWise in Standard Three and Four about treading water. It’s not that nothing’s happening around the globe, because there’s always something going on. The problem is that I know what’s going on and I don’t have the wherewithal to elucidate anything poignant on the subject (wait, that’s what this project is about???? -ed).

I just watched the Vice News Tonight Charlottesville special and it’s sapped at me. It’s horrifying, brutal and as one speaker so adroitly calls it, appalling. To think that this rhetoric has resurfaced in 2017 when we should instead all have robot butlers and makerbots. Watching the linked video filled me with an unfamiliar feeling. Pure rage. I’m not an angry person. My default negative emotion is sadness and the concept of directing hostility towards other people feels bizarre when I could just beat up on myself instead. Seeing these white supremacy scum grossly disregarding the rights and freedoms of others filled me with a white hot fury. Hearing them spout ignorant hate made me tremble with blinding emotion. All kinds of violent fantasies ran through my head in an instant. A desire to cause pain, draw blood, to see them suffer. I’m the opposite of a violent person. That part of my brain is usually reserved for obscure facts about early 90s animation. These people are cartoon villains flushed into reality. Humans are complex, nuanced creatures and they all seem like two dimensional caricatures. My inability to do anything tangible makes me feel helpless. A surge of energy and emotion put to waste. No number of rants could do anything but blow off steam. Others are doing it better.

Outside of that, I don’t know what to talk about. I mentioned WaterWise earlier. WaterWise was pretty great. We were in Standard Three and Four (so around nine to ten years of age). We’d all pack into a bus and travel up to the Birkenhead Wharf to learn about water safety. They’d divide us up by knowledge levels and teach us accordingly. We learned all about sailing conditions, how to react to the sea when it was choppy, safe. We’d do bombs off the jetty. We learned about kayaks and how to kayak safely. We’d get into kayaks and paddle around the marina. They taught us all manner of knots and how to use each of them. We learned sailing in these little Optimist dinghies. First technique, then practical. We’d move the keel, keep the sail taught. We were shown how to duck underneath the boom (and those who didn’t listen suffered the consequences on their own).

Living in New Zealand, water safety was imperative. It’s a small country surrounded on all sides (and in the middle of the two islands) by water. Beaches and lakes are everywhere. My home city is an isthmus (a word that I get no end of joy typing). Summers were spent on the sand, aside creeks or lakes. While it wasn’t common for all families to own boats (definitely a class thing), what kid didn’t boogie board at least? The education system had realised the importance of a safety initiative and had folded it into the curriculum accordingly.

While I hope Charlotteville is the end of it, I’m not that naive. People will continue to hate, to push their desires over the needs and rights of others. I’d thought that history had made a point of openly condemning the Nazi regime, but apparently the message didn’t stick for all. If we’re looking to move forward as a species, we’re gonna need to move forward together. I’m sure humanity is fucked for good, but on the off chance that we’ll survive our own arrogance, we can’t get there by climbing bodies.

If we can though, I sure hope they’re the Nazi ones.

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You know something? I used that middle urinal and I felt like a god.

At improv yesterday we were learning about status and our teacher told us something interesting. She said that status is a choice. It’s not something that can be taken from us, it can only be volunteered. She said to imagine status as some kind of liquid within us. We wake up each day with it filled to the brim. Countless interactions throughout the day allow us to tip out or refill that status, depending on our response. When our status is lowered, that’s a choice we’ve made. It went deeper, but let’s keep things pretty simple.

Status exists on two poles; high and low. Those poles each have tiers to them. The highest is happiness, then anger and lastly sadness. Status is also largely a concept that we buy into societally. We’ve decided that attributes such as wealth, power and attractiveness dictate our status. We see those who possess these traits as opinion leaders or somehow more capable than those without. It sucks, but when you think of high status, what image comes to your mind? Is it a tall white dude wearing a nice blue suit getting into his Mercedes? Society is all kinds of biased. It’s sexist, racist, ableist and, well, facist too. It’s systematically drilled into us a certain image of status and over time we’ve chosen to accept that.

I started to think about the way I roam the world and how I exchange status. A lot of the time in public, I aim to be as considerate as possible. This can involve stepping out of the way on the footpath, standing on public transport, making myself as small as I can to let people through. I’m not a tiny person or physically unimposing, but I’m aware of how I could be perceived as thus. I’m conscious that as a dude, I tread upon a mountain of privilege every day and I intentionally try not to take it for granted. I know that if I didn’t go out of my way to consider others, it’d seem like I was any other white dude imposing himself upon the world. That sounds shit in my book, so I try to mitigate it. I try to lower my status to even the playing field. Whether this works, I have no idea. Most people tend to find me pretty non-threatening, so maybe I’m on track.

Our teacher said something else. She said that the difference between confidence and arrogance involves whether or not you ever choose to willingly lower your status. If you refuse to ever yield status, you come off as an asshole. Cocky and unfriendly. People will resent that you seem to put yourself above them. I thought about this and wondered what balance I could strike to raise my status without trampling on others. I often joke about what the world must seem like to a confident person (doing power moves like pissing in the middle urinal of three), but it’s not like I don’t have that option in front of me. Recently I’ve been trying small tricks to see if they’ll help. I’ve been checking my posture more regularly. An upright chest with neutral spine, shoulders back, pelvis tilted forwards. I’ve been trying to smile more often in a fake it till you make it kind of fashion. If I do move aside or let someone through, I do it with a smile. Happiness is a status move, whether intentional or not. I’ve been heeding another lesson learned in improv- that it’s okay to pause before responding. You don’t need to always have an answer right away. Taking a second to consider isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows you’re thinking about the right answer.

Status is a privilege and it’s also a choice. It’s weird to think that I had a say in this all along.

Sounds choice to me.

If you can’t handle me at pukana, you don’t deserve me at Haka.

I met someone at a party last night who’d lived in Auckland for four years. She and I sung the New Zealand National Anthem in Maori. It was bittersweet. Wonderful to experience that part of my culture, especially the Maori version that’s always sounded sweeter to my ears. Disappointing to realise that aside from the first verse, I don’t actually know the entirety of my national anthem. That’s weird, right? Or is it okay to be enough of a fairweather Kiwi to aim for the bare minimum? I was also surprised to hear her recount the words to the Haka, something I’ve never fully known.

My culture is part of me, of course. It may not have defined my upbringing, but it certainly heavily contributed to who I am today. One thing I’ve always wanted to be able to do was a solid Haka. I love the Haka. It’s powerful and emotionally stirring. It reminds me that I come from a country with a rich and storied history. A country that’s dealt with brutal colonialism and unforgivable atrocities. A country that hasn’t attempted to whitewash any of this and has for years accepted that reparations are to be made (and will most likely never be paid in full). In school we were taught of the proud Maori heritage inherent to our country. We had Maori lessons and learned of the historical culture. Particularly in the last year of high school, my history teacher took great pains to present a balanced portrayal of colonial New Zealand. In particular, he emphasised just how culturally, militarily, numerically and politically dominant the Maori were over the Pakeha for decades into their arrival on New Zealand shores.

It’s kind of surprising by now that it’s not something I’ve learned, the Haka. I’m sure we were taught in schools. If I’d been more of an avid rugby head I’d have seen enough games for it to be etched into my memory. At age 30, notions of potential cultural appropriation have started circling in my mind. Concurrently, the more I think about usage, the less prevalent those thoughts seem to be. I can’t imagine pulling out the Haka in any situation without full respect. It’s not some joke or party trick. It’s a declaration of war or powerful show of emotion. If it’s to be performed, it’s always to be done with integrity. I don’t know what kind of situation would demand such a response, but I feel almost unarmed to not have it in my arsenal.

There are YouTube videos, the lyrics are widely available (for the most common Haka, certainly). The internet brings the means to learn right in front of my nose. The potential is there. I’m sure it would feel strange to practice in my bedroom. I may get worried texts from my upstairs and downstairs neighbours. Seems a small sacrifice to fill in the blanks of an important cultural practice.

If I ever develop enemies, best I leave them quaking in fear.

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.