Good ol’ fashioned effigyniality

I’m not entirely sure what I expected out of a Burn, but I don’t think I could’ve planned for any of it.

It’s been so interesting entering wildly different spaces. No matter the theme camp, the unifying factor seems to be an overwhelming generousity of spirit. An excess of gifting, both emotional and of tangible goods. Walking through the grounds, I find myself hustled over by well meaning folk. “We’re having a bacon party” they’ll say. An array of treats greet your eyes. Bacon wrapped marshmallows smothered in chocolate. Cream cheese bacon dip, chocolate covered bacon bit shot glasses filled with vanilla and apple whiskey. An angel stops by the camp every morning with home baked cookies. A cornucopia of culinary delights. Spicy tequila shots, distilled spirits, sangria, midnight poutine, crepes, cold brew and that’s just the fucking tip of the iceberg. Oh, and iceberg lettuce in the free salad bar. My stomach and heart have been so gosh darn replete.

The generousity of activities are a marvel too. Octomassage was something else. Eight people rotating giving the person in the centre a simultaneous massage. Eight sets of hands on your body was an enveloping sensory experience. Everything was consent based, with participants aiming to give the massagee their desired physical release. Having hands on your shoulders, upper back, feet and butt at the same time was unreal. There was such a sense of goodwill, with no ulterior motive outside of making the face down participant feel as great as possible. Especially after having received such a boon, it was gratifying to be able to give back and help others access the same joy.

The most intense experience, however, was the burning of the effigy. I came in cynical about city hippies coming out to the country to set shit on fire. When it came time for the effigy to burn, I was taken in completely. Seeing ashes blow into the night sky, strata falling apart, all consumed by the encroaching flame, it stirred something inside. I began to question the person I needed to become and what I’d have to give up in order to get there. The pain of separation a thousand times over. A life of constant death and rebirth, finding myself again and again. One of our blissful connections, a French Canadian dude, came over to talk to me about the Maori gods. It brought up feelings of regret, guilt. Had I abandoned my homeland? What had I taken with me? Was I too proud to admit the pain of separation? Had my resolution in leaving been the right path? I stared into the flames and wept uncontrollably, wondering when it was I’d find my path in life, instead of the purgatory of aimless drifitng. I found comfort in the arms of my friends as I sobbed into their shoulders. I unravelled, cut open to the world with a vulnerablity I’m not sure I’ve ever felt.

Something in me shifted, and I’ve got no idea how it’s settled. I feel different this morning, attuned with my body and trusting that my mind will follow. I spent time in the sauna, sweat dripping out of my pores. As my bodily fluids drained, I felt something leave me, as if a possession had lifted. I’ve remained naked throughout the day. I joined friends in the field doing naked yoga. I lay bare underneath the sun to feel connected. I’m starting to feel centred. As if I’m coming back to rediscover who it is I am. I’ve got no idea what it is I’ll find beneath the surface, but I know I’m ready for something different.

With no concept of what’s burned away, I’m excited and scared to know what’s left.

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I rolled a 12 on my constitution check.

For my entire life, I’ve existed in spaces where Americans have been ridiculed constantly for being ignorant, aggressive gun toting simpletons. At the same time, whenever I’ve travelled to the U.S. I’ve found them to be primarily warm, friendly, good-hearted and well-intentioned people. Enough that my previous description defines the exception rather than the rule.

With my past few trips to the U.S. I’ve felt like most of my issues with America are systemic and the people inside those systems either don’t know any better or haven’t been given the capacity to learn differently. The messaging that’s being fed is so bombastic that it leaves little room for nuance. In short, these are mostly decent people within shitty systems.

An illustration:

I loathe what airport security has become. Leaving Austin yesterday I had to take off my shoes and put them in a bin with my windbreaker. In another bin I had to put my kindle, bluetooth keyboard, cellphone and headphones. In yet another I had to put a sandwich, a cookie and protein bar. My backpack went on the conveyor belt, then my carry on baggage. As an aside, it made me feel kind of ashamed to have so many material goods.

I was told to clear my pockets, so I asked what I should do with my passport, wallet and tissue. The guy told me I could just hold them in my hands. I approached the full body scanner, and the lady operating it told me I couldn’t have anything in my hands. I asked if that was true, because the guy told me to hold my passport, wallet and tissue in my hands rather than a bin and I thought it was sort of gross for me to be making any potential germs from my tissue into someone else’s problem. She thought for a second and acquiesced. I walked through the scanner with my arms held up then came out the other side. I was directed to stand on a mat with another chap, to spread my arms out so he could give a rigorous pat down to my stomach. I sighed and followed suit. He did his task and let me go.

I approached the conveyor belt and looked at my array of stuff. My carry on and snacks weren’t there. A guy looked over at my and told me to come over to him, there was something he needed to check out. I sighed again and asked if I could at least pack up my gear. He quirked his head, as if to say “why wouldn’t you be allowed to?”. I put on my shoes and windbreaker. I put most of my electronics back into my backpack and held onto the keyboard.

Look. I’m a white cis dude with a silly accent and generally pleasant demeanour. I felt frustrated, disheartened and a little dehumanised. I can only imagine how tense and emotionally charged these kind of situations must be for anybody outside of the extremely limited spectrum the system defines as “mainstream”. To feel so utterly powerless because I wanted to get on a plane from a holiday and go home? And for what? How many people do they really catch out with this kind of system? I’m absolutely sure that if anyone was planning on doing some serious criminal activity, they’d be smart enough to learn the system inside out to check for loopholes. I’m having a very hard time believing that the ends justify the means.

In any case, the guy with my carry on/lunch called me over, so I grabbed all my stuff and went to his area. He told me that by regulations, they have to scan basically anything that could imply organic material. He pointed to my Whole Foods bag and said “I scan a lot of Whole Foods stuff, but I’ve never gone in. What’s for lunch?” I told him I’d gotten a bison/arugula sandwich and was pretty excited for the Tollhouse cookie I’d gotten as a treat. “That sounds great man, I hope it’s as good as it sounds.”

I looked at my carry-on luggage. “Is it my Magic deck?” I asked. I brought a Magic the Gathering deck with me just in case I could find casual games while on the go. He nodded. “Yeah. These come up in the system as organic material for some reason and they’ve got an odd shape. We have to scan them.” He thought for a second and continued. “I used to work at a Tattoo shop and the guys there loved this game. I thought the art was cool, but I told ’em to stop it and play a real game. So we closed up shop that night. I bought a bunch of beers, grabbed some character sheets and played DnD. Had a hell of a time. Those were the days.” He finished up with the scanning, sent me on my way and told me to enjoy my lunch.

The whole experience had been one big emotional arc. None of these people were truly rude or unpleasant. They were all just doing their jobs. Over the holiday we talked in bars with locals a bunch. Even when we had fundamental ideological disagreements with them, it rarely seemed like they were truly mean-spirited or hateful. They’d just existed within a system that shaped them a certain way and as far as they knew, they were all killing it.

Seeing all of this made me thankful for my upbringing. For the cultures that raised me and guided me to question why, rather than pushing me in one direction. At the same time, I realised that there’s a certain amount of smugness in both New Zealand and Canadian culture that’s as uncharismatic as it is unearned. For any faults we’d assign to these myopic systems that run rampant within the US, goddamn if they’re not some of the friendliest people on the planet.

If you don’t stand for Summer, you’ll Fall for Winter. Spring back the clocks?

So here’s a thing. I’ve always desperately wanted to do stand-up. I did it a bunch before I left for Canada, then a couple of times while I was travelling through. I never did well. I got disheartened, then scared to get back up. The honest truth is I was going about it all wrong. The “way to do” stand-up is to write a couple of jokes and refine them, editing to find the funny in your concept and tweaking them over time as you work on the right delivery, wording, etc. Instead, I’d write five minutes, it wouldn’t work well (because I was trying it for the first-third time) and I’d discard it to write another five. Accordingly, I was getting the response I deserved. Eventually I threw in the towel. For years now I’ve been secretly ashamed and resentful of myself for giving up. I’ve felt cowardly and had a hard time reconciling that if I’d just stuck with it through the hard parts, by now I’d be better regardless. It’s been the kind of thing that with no exaggeration I’d think about at least once a week, going back to try again. Fear told me no and I believed it had my best interests at heart. Or it was easier to do nothing than to try, which is a whole different kind of seductive.

On this holiday, my comedian friend said she was curious about trying an open mic in a new city. I pondered out loud about whether I should give it a try. She and my other friend couldn’t have been more supportive. “Sure”, she said “go write some jokes”. Simple as that. It was weird too, but in her cavalier delivery of those words there was something I heard that may or may not have been intentional. She said it so matter of factly. It sounded like she didn’t for a second entertain the notion that I wasn’t fully capable of writing jokes. So I chose to believe her. I went off to write and wrote a ton. There was so much waffling. I knew though, that I had the kernels of some decent jokes once I cut out the chaff. Even better, I’d worked within a structure I’d always wanted to replicate, but never had. You know when a comedian does the punchline and the room laughs, then it goes quiet? It’s like “well, that was a funny joke”, then instead of moving onto the next joke they tag with the real punchline, which is even funnier because it defies the room’s expectations of structure? Well I wrote some of those, and if felt so goddamn good to finally be able to see how that worked as opposed to only reaching that first stage. I looked at my page. I had material. I got excited. I woke up at 6am the next morning, too excited and nervous to sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then as the night approached, fear crept back on in. I thought about how badly I’d feel if I tried and failed, See, until I did it I existed in this Schroedinger’s Cat style situation. I didn’t know that I could do it until I tried, but at the same time it wasn’t confirmed that I couldn’t do it. If I did it and sucked, that was it. If I never tried, in some twisted logic, I could never fail. I tried to make excuses and mentally talked myself out of it. I implored my friends to talk me out of it. They wouldn’t. We went.

I was nervous and shakey, which was only exacerbated when the host said sets were three minutes long. Back in Toronto most open mics have five minute sets. ‘That’s like one of my jokes’, I thought. I had three long jokes I wanted to try. I resolved not to rush, but to accept that I I would do the one joke and take my time with it, find the correct cadence.

Honestly, the set went better than I could’ve hoped. I was nervous, but my delivery felt natural and even. The structure and lead in felt right. They were laughing in the right places. It’s not like I ever expected I’d crush, but I had a bunch of big laughs and the joke I really liked got the whole room cracking up. They flashed the light at two minutes and I realised I was rounding off the end of my joke, that there was no way I could fit another one in. That felt good enough for me and I was stoked to get in the whole joke at an even pace, without rushing.

It felt so amazing to have faced my significant fears. I was proud of myself for getting up and overjoyed to have done it. Even now, the morning after, I still feel like I’m glowing. It’s probably just sunburn, but maybe I sunburned my heart, y’know? This holiday has been outstanding. I’ve enjoyed the pace, my friends and I have really complementary travel styles. We’ve done so much cool shit, but this is one of my favourite memories from it hands down.

Ice have my doubts.

It’s easy to forget how miserable winter can be. As soon as the chill passes each year, I’m not thinking back to the constant downer of February snow. It’s hard to recall being totally unmotivated to leave the house, or the bone deep frost that grips your fingers for minutes after you’ve taken shelter inside.

Please don’t think that was a thematically relevant intro. I just wanted to complain about my cold index finger and explain why I’m typing so slowly on my phone. Of course, giving that backstory adds very little flavour. I’m sure you had no idea I was a) typing slowly or b) on my phone. Surprise, motherfuckers! Wait, that was rude of me to accuse you of incest. I apologise. If only my fingers weren’t so frosty, I could’ve averted my muscle movements meandering menacingly, mired in mean moral morasses. My oh my, this went off the rails. Speaking of which, in further unnecessary exposition I’m on the subway. Surprise!

If I sound glib, it’s cause I am. The winter doesn’t merely chill my fingers, but has a numbing effect on my desire to do much of anything. Hah! I bet you didn’t expect me to circle back to the intro, did you? No incest accusation this time, but I hope I’m not without the capacity for left field loops to throw you for. Sentences aren’t supposed to be ended propositions with? I digress (which could’ve been the back up name for this writing project). It’s hard to get excited when the world outside is doing all it can to quash progress. It’s a personal thaw point, if you will. My mood drops with the temperature and I discover hibernation as a method of self-preservation.

The same existential dread that’s making my existence dreadful is seeping into my resting hours. I’m not doing a great job of staying asleep and when I am, my dreams are filled with obvious anxiety. Why else would I have developed this recurring motif of impossibly steep roads. I think I’m up to two or three dreams where the path has followed a gravitationally frightening arc. Even the following day, I intimately remember the trepidation of traversing that track. I’m sure any experienced astral traveller could give me a simple explanation. Maybe it’s stress manifesting. It could be that deep inside I know a way out of my personal rut, but fear the work it’ll take to ascend to that point. Perhaps it’s a fear of failure manifested as falling. If I don’t reach my desired outcome, my brain tells me that I’ll plummet back to earth and crash. In actuality, it’d probably just lead me down another road. All experience is useful in one way or another. So often what we register as failure is merely ourselves taking an unexpected route.

Which is another way to say, I’m at home now and hours have passed since I started that paragraph. The passage of time means so little in this format. Come to think of it, time’s length shrinks in the rear view mirror. So one day this winter will seem naught but a ghost of the past. It’s so easy to forget how miserable winter can be.

In that case, I’m sure we’ll find some other way to make fun of all those cumulosers.

As I occasionally do, I’m gonna cheat with today’s writing and start by reposting a Facebook comment I made. I’d seen a post about the discourse surrounding being overweight in our society and how nuance is so quickly lost in the shadow of fatphobia.

“A hill that I am willing to die on is that the apparent healthiness of your food intake is not a moral issue. The way that society has developed language around it is bullshit. An entire swath of foods is grouped under the label “junk food”, which automatically gets slammed with negative connotations and we start to associate guilt with our intake. It’s lead to a mentality where you’ll hear people about to eat something sweet and say “oh, I shouldn’t” or “I’ll be bad” and wink. This entire concept can fuck right off to the fiery gates of Mt. Fuck. It’s all predicated upon a ridiculous social fear of gaining weight, as if that’s the worst thing that could happen. What’s more, it only serves to entrench this view in people who have issues with moderation, leading to pointless and unnecessary self-loathing. Then others wield it like a badge, as if your ability to count calories says anything about your character.

Let people enjoy things. Their consumption is not your business.

Edit: Let’s also not forget that for many, cost is a gatekeeper to healthy eating. It’s entirety possible to have a nutritionally balanced diet on a low income, but it requires a ton of education. Nutrition is a minefield of information and most of us don’t really know what’s in our food. Pre packaged and manufactured foods are often far more affordable than their fresh counterparts and this has a trade off. So any kind of snooty moral superiority can take a fucking dip in the Arctic depths of Lake Fuck.”

If you’ve spent any time with my daily writing, you’ll recognise that these sentiments have been repeated ad nauseum. I’ve had to struggle with precious little in my middle class white cis male life. Body issues have been one of the few repeat offenders. While it may seem kinda ironic posting this in the middle of my tussle with the ketogenic diet (I’ve never professed that I’m doing it for anything but weight loss), my hope is that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. The point that I’d like to drive home is that your relationship with your body is a personal thing. Not all relationships are healthy, but neither are they the domain of strangers. In the same way that moral panic has been used through the ages to control mass behaviour (the concept of sexual pleasure outside of marriage as a sin, for instance), being outside a slim definition of physical norms has become aberrant. We’re told that irrespective of health, being overweight is cause for disdain. Hell, even the euphemism “overweight” implies a deviation from the norm. Fuck that noise. What right does a stranger have to cast judgement on your health or worth based on the way you look?

Turnabout is fair play, supposedly, and it’s easy to point the finger back to me. For the past 17 years I’ve pushed myself to the gym three or more times per week. I’ve tried diets, cut alcohol and run to work in order to drop weight. I’ve constantly fought with the scales, yet I’m standing here advocating against demonising people’s weight? I want to be clear, I’m not saying I’m any different or better than you. I have internalised personal fatphobia, I just come by it honestly. As a child I was teased and physically bullied for being fat. It hindered my ability to be confident in myself. I drank deeply from all the media messages telling me that to be successful and admired was to be trim and attractive.

I didn’t feel trim or attractive and as such thought of myself as pretty damn unlikable. At the age of seven I started to believe that if I was to be fat, nobody would love me, I’d never get married, then die alone and childless. I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD. Isn’t that fucking ridiculous? The only thing seven year olds should care about is the wonder of the universe around them. Not their inevitable entropy. You know what? I bought in. I struggled unsuccessfully with weight loss for years. I started going to the gym at 5.30am three times a week before school at 14. I ascribed to the notion that I would never be liked or desired unless I fit a certain body type.

At 31 I’d love to say that I’ve grown out of it, but you read the keto diet thing. I know that in my brain and heart, I’ll always be fat no matter what my body looks like. It’s absurd, but therapy to unpack and dismantle all that trauma would cost more annually than my salary. My hope is that we as a society improve. That these attitudes die out. That we change the language and perceptions around the way people look to save future generations from needless anxiety.

Until we upload our consciousness to the cloud, anyway.

Is this what a level up feels like?

This entry is going to be the epitome of vague-booking. I did something today that terrified me, but I pushed through anyway. There will be no specifics because there aren’t specifics yet. I don’t want to jinx a thing. However I’m nervous, excited, shaken and proud, which seems worth talking about.

It’s no secret that I’ve felt listless lately. Stagnant even. I’ve had no career movement in far too long and it’s caused me no end of anguish. My lack of direction has left me brick-walled and I’ve had nobody else to blame. Any progress would be impossible without putting in the work, which seems altogether too obvious when I put it in writing. In short, I needed to do something.

A few months back I was doing some voicing and a stranger point blank asked me what my dream job was. That’s a frank, bold question to lob at someone you’ve just met but for some reason without thinking I had an answer. It was thorough and direct, with more confidence and candour than it deserved, considering how hard my brain was scrambling after my mouth. I finished. She nodded and said “you should do that”. I stood there shocked and took in what I’d said. Where had it come from?

I thought about it for the next few days. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the next month. Then I did something I rarely ever do: I asked for help.

I bypassed a few rungs on the corporate ladder and went to the highest ranked person I knew. I told him I had something I wanted to pitch, but felt way over my head and wanted some advice. He’d always been an honest, no nonsense person to deal with in the past. He never sugarcoated anything, but he knew what he was talking about. He said to look at his calendar and book an appointment. I booked something an hour later.

I laid out my idea in a vague sense. Told him where I saw it going, how it could be implemented. He tore holes in it, pointed out all the weak spots in my plan. He told me to come up with answers and schedule another meeting. I came back to him a week later with a more solid outline. He told me who I should pitch to and how to angle it towards them. Once again he poked holes, then told me to fix them and bring the answers in the form of a sales deck. I’d never made one, so he gave me concrete directions on how to structure it. Exactly how long it should be, which sections to focus on, how my content would fit. I came back a week later with my results. He critiqued it some more with mostly aesthetic advice and told me he’d let the party involved know that I had his blessing. He thought it was a great idea and I’d brought it up at an opportune time. I thanked him for all the help and went to set up a pitch meeting. I was told that they were too busy at present, but wanted to hear my ideas in 4-6 weeks.

I felt brushed off and rejected. Any momentum I had ground to a halt. 4-6 weeks passed. Months passed. Things at work got worse. I felt embarrassed that I had failed to deliver on the summation of my effort. That I’d wasted the time of someone important who’d put themselves out for me. Work continued to get worse and none of my job interviews paid off. It felt like I’d hit rock bottom. I felt ashamed. What a waste, letting this idea with so much potential flounder uselessly.

I realised that things couldn’t get worse, so what did I have to lose trying to do something about it? I got back in contact with the person I was originally gonna pitch to. They were busy, but booked a meeting a week later between me and two of their subordinates. I couldn’t tell if this was a meeting of obligation or genuine interest. It didn’t matter. I went back to my sales deck, tightened it up. I thought about how the landscape had changed and new ideas for implementation. As the meeting loomed I was shitting myself. I’d struggle to get to sleep, then wake up at 4am because I couldn’t stop thinking of ideas. I was nervous, excited and shaken, but I was ready.

Today I had the meeting. The AV equipment in the meeting room I’d booked didn’t work. They said it was fine, that we could find another room. We walked the floor looking for an unused meeting room with the right equipment. We found one that worked and I took a deep breath. I explained that I was nervous, that I’d never even used PowerPoint before, but I had conviction in my ideas. They smiled and I started.

I went through my presentation and spoke off the top of my head. Magically, everything flowed. I’d go into immense detail on one topic, then move tangentially into another without thinking. Then I’d realise that I’d pivoted to the next point on my slide without thinking. It kept happening. I expanded upon ideas in depth, threw out examples on the fly that were in themselves solid ideas. They were nodding, asking questions. Without effort, I had a good answer every single time. I was open, honest and realistic about scale. My concepts were relevant to the company and gave valid insight into how it could fit into and augment current strategies.

I got to the end of my prepared presentation and they kept asking questions. They started coming up with ideas on how it could work too. They got excited and started looking at the impending schedule to see how they could implement my ideas. We started talking timelines and practical steps. We kept talking. They said they’d run it up the ladder, get feedback and see where we could go from there. I felt anything but placated. I felt vindicated. I thanked them for their time and they thanked me for mine. We went our separate ways and I had a brisk walk to take a breather.

So what now? I wait, then follow up. I keep momentum without being pushy. I cross my fingers and hope that their enthusiasm was genuine. Then whatever comes, I follow through and deliver. It could be big. It’s definitely exciting (and a little scary).

It’s also leagues better than doing nothing.

Is anyone out there subletting a toolshed?

Moving Day! Not for us, but for friends. I dread the concept of moving and would happily never do it again in my life. I know the concept of change is exciting and novel, but it also means effort and most likely a combination of downgrading, paying more and moving further away from the Toronto city centre. My girlfriend and I have a charming, dumpy little place that has everything we need right now. On site washer and dryer, hydro and utilities included, a carport, central heating/cooling and an awesome location. Two bedrooms and a bathroom for $1400 per month. We also have five months until our landlord is renovating to sell, so it’s more accurate to say that we have everything we need right now but the choice to stay put.

I get the mentality that the journey to find somewhere to live is a downright adventure. I do. I’m also aware of the annoyance of getting attached only to lose a place. The terror of checking out an innocuous looking place and coming away wondering what was hiding under the floorboards. The stress of day after day dwindling away as the month draws to a close. The threat of homelessness, getting stuck with the lease to a place that actively makes you unhappy, staying somewhere that’ll “do for now”.

Yeah, I know some people have real fears.

It sounds petty and I get it. I’m also of the privileged belief that your home should be a place that makes you feel happy, safe, secure. Home is meant to be a refuge from the outside world. Somewhere you can retreat and recharge. I’ve rented enough places to know when I feel at peace and when I don’t. I’ve done many a time and by now I’m not content to settle for “good enough”. Things worked out last time, but I want to put the emphasis on the word “work”. After seeing 15+ places I still “lucked out” with where I am. I remember the dingy basement dwellings. The ruined party houses still come to mind. I’ll never truly forget the four levelled monolith with bedrooms on the top two floors, the toilet on the second level and the shower in the basement. Also the creepy artist’s homemade mannequins scattered around each and every floor. It was horror incarnate. I still put in an application, because renting in Toronto gets that desperate. Also the Bathurst and Bloor location couldn’t be beat.

I basically inherited my current place by winning a war of attrition with the kind of flatmate who left Love Dream Believe/butterfly mirrored plastic decals plastered across the kitchen wall when she left because she was worried about ruining the paint. I had a couple of rad flatmates over the years. One bought his own apartment and moved out, the other moved in with her girlfriend. My girlfriend has been here for a year and a half and subconsciously I guess I thought we’d die here and get buried under the floorboards together. The Toronto Snake Person renter’s dream. Instead we get to stalk Padmapper for somewhere we can settle for.

Or maybe we’ll win the lottery and get to rent a place to ourselves in student housing. ThisĀ is Toronto we’re talking about here.