I’ll let you in on a secret. You could still buy the coffees anyway. That’s capitalism!

I’ve been ranting a lot of doom and gloom lately, so my goal is to push further towards positivity today. Is that too much to ask? Very likely. Let’s engage with some sunnier things!

I guess you could blame an overweight childhood if you must, but I’ve had body issues for some time. Go figure. I’ve also been in heavy (misnomer) training for Tough Mudder lately, working really hard to tone up. It’s been repeatedly gruelling. In recent years I’ve had help, whether in a group fitness situation or personal training. This year I’ve run off nothing but my own grit. Knowing what I’m capable of and making a point of not cutting myself much slack. So yeah, it’s been challenging, but also rewarding to see results. At this stage it’s become an annual summer tradition, which sucks only because cutting alcohol is a shit and a half when the sun is shining out there. Toronto lives for its patios and they don’t quite have the same glory when your beer goggles are instead filled with vodka-less cranberry juice. In an attempt to get the kind of gratification that only external validation from an echo chamber can provide, this morning I posted a shirtless selfie on Facebook. The “likes” and positive comments have flooded in. It was a cheap ploy for a temporary boost to self-worth and it’s worked. I’m chalking that up as a victory.

I saw one of my musician friends, Nick Teehan, perform on Saturday night and it’s reminded me how much I love his music. He’s a tremendous live performer with an enthralling vitality on stage. Between his vibrant energy and witty quips, he puts together an engaging show that pulls you right in. Not only is he a fantastic performer, but he’s a truly gifted songwriter. His lyrics are evocative and rich, drawing on personal experience, local sights and touching storybook imagery. “Mom Song” is an ode to the intrinsic link drawn between mother and son, a relationship unbound by temporal circumstance. “Boxing Day” nods its head to the disconnect of growing out of youth and the trappings of small town life. If you like what you’ve heard, you can get his album There is Not a Snake on Bandcamp for a mere $7 CAD (or more if that’s what you want to pay). That’s like skipping one and a half coffees to support a talented local artist. You’re practically losing money by not doing it.

All my favourite good television (that isn’t already on air, that is) is coming back. All hail the Fall television slate! You’re the Worst, BoJack Horseman, Better Things, The Good Place, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and everyone’s favourite 2016 hit, Stranger Things (which sadly is in no way affiliated with Better Things. I’d love to see Pamela Adlon taking down a Demogorgon). Not only that, but along with Fall television, it’s gonna be Fall! Sweaters and light jackets, pretty coloured leaves, pumpkins to carve, Halloween, Thanksgiving feasts, seasonal beer (/the return of all my Belgian style favourites). A season full of unmitigated joy before the Winter depression kicks in.

See, I’m practically walking on sunshine.

Does it have to be arrogance if I’m Onan it?

It’s that time of year again. Tough Mudder is a mere five days away. I’m on the last leg of prep and those legs are predictably sore. For several months now I’ve been training hard. I’ve sworn off alcohol and bread (not through any anti-yeast sentiment, I’m just aware of how I love to overindulge in those two delectable consumables). I’ve been training hard at the gym, working through dedicated upper and lower body split days. Three times a week I’ve gone for lunchtime runs along the waterfront. It’s been sweaty and taxing, but I’ve seen tangible results.

Was all of this necessary to complete the course? Not in the least. Some of my team members last year crossed the finish line with zero training under their belts. All the hard tack I’ve been devoting each week could easily be seen as overkill. Without putting in the extra yards I could likely still zip through the event without dying halfway through. In previous years however, I’ve been thankful for the extra grit in the tank. Instead of slogging up and down the mountain, I’ve bounced through with the gusto of the Energizer Bunny on coke. It’s turned an endurance race into a celebration of my body’s capabilities. Instead of thanking the fates for my survival, I can thank my limbs, muscles, heart and mind for pulling me through each day with aplomb.

The event has become less of an annual task, and more emblematic of how I tie my own self-worth to discipline. Seeing my body change, feeling renewed energy and acknowledging the strength of my resolve brings me pride. Amongst the multitude of challenges that’re out of my control, I’m emboldened to rediscover each year that not all of them are. As someone who’s struggled with issues of body image and associated feelings of inadequacy, this provides me with fuel to see the best in myself.

At this point, five days away, it’s more important than ever to practice self-love. Masturbatory as this entry is, I mean compassion, rather than anything titillating. I’m not gonna be hitting any new peaks over the next couple of days. The benefits of pushing hard are by far outweighed by the risk of injury. For the rest of the week, I’m focusing on tapering down. Any workouts will be focused more on keeping myself limber. Maybe a short run on Wednesday. Mobility and stretching will be a priority. I’m gonna be eating well and aiming for eight hours of sleep per night. Cutting down the caffeine and quaffing down my greens. With the end in sight, it’s so important that I get there safely with respect for my body.

Feeling present in my skin has given me a vitality I treasure. I’m content when I look in the mirror and give thanks rather than seeking flaws. I feel confidence resonating through my core and that in itself is worth all of the effort. Tough Mudder may still be a few days away, but I’m happy to linger in this for as long as it lasts.

I guess you could say I was paste off.

I have a headache right now, which thankfully has been a rare occurrence in adulthood. So this entry is likely gonna be disparate thoughts stitched together. It’s odd, because I used to get headaches all the time as a kid. Maybe I wasn’t drinking enough water or there was something iffy in my diet, but it was a nigh daily happening. I became used to having painkillers on hand as a matter of course. That dried up close to 20 years back though and it’s not something I think about until I feel that familiar pressure in my brain.

I put a status up on both my Facebook news feed and in a private puns group. “What’s it called when you find the sound of people sipping miso soup triggering?” I’d thought to myself that it was a fun little joke. I expected I’d garner a couple of likes, maybe a few comments of people who didn’t get that it was a “misophonia” joke. In both cases, someone made the misophonia connection early on and commented. Others went for plays on “misanthrope” and “misogyny”, which was neat. As I’d expected, some people just didn’t get it. A few dumb comments with people making unrelated puns like “miso hungry”, which reflects on the “miso” aspect but completely misses the set up. I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here, except that it was a pretty simple reminder that as soon as your message enters a public space, its meaning is up to others to determine. In a way it’s stopped being yours. I think about musicians and other artists whose texts are open to interpretation. It’s always seemed weird to me that they rarely come out and say “well this is what I intended to say with this song” or whatever. They often prefer to stay enigmatic and distance themselves from semiotic analysis. In this case I wondered if coming out and saying “welp, it was a basic misophonia joke that didn’t really need commentary” would serve any purpose. Was I better to step back and let it be its own thing? It was the path of least effort, in any case.

I was folding washing today and found myself messing up the folding of one of my girlfriend’s spaghetti strap tank tops. I looked at the misshapen lump and had a real “Once in a Lifetime” moment. How did I get here? I was co-habiting with someone else. Sharing a bed with them. Our lives intertwined. Hell, sharing food even. Flashes of memory: I thought back to how we’d met, our early dates, milestones, holidays, time with family. I flashed forward to future time with family, holidays, milestones, telling our kids about our early dates, how we’d met. At that moment it seemed simultaneously the weirdest fucking thing in the world that five years past I was half-way across the world with no idea who she was, but also the most natural thing in the world to be spending my life with her. In this moment between moments, the bizarre and wonderful duality of existing at all, of circumstance and co-incidence, of taking chances and following through, all flickered in and out of my mind, too quick to catalogue. What would my life be/have been without her? Isn’t it weird to have all of this inside of you at every moment and not constantly unravel?

To that end, isn’t it weirder that I’m not having headaches every day?

Kinda surprised they didn’t play Freebird.

It’s getting harder and harder to tick bands off my live music bucket list. That wasn’t intended as gloating. The issue is that I’m not nearly as exploratory with music as I once was. It takes a shit ton of effort to keep on top of new releases, especially when there’s so much fucking content coming out all the time. How am I supposed to hear and absorb new music when every artist I loved back in ’08-’10 has a 2017 release? Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, Broken Social Scene, Sigur Rós, Japandroids, Spoon, The XX, The National, Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem, St Vincent and so much more. Half of these are already out and I’ve been so overwhelmed by content that I have yet to give them the ear-time they deserve. There are podcasts to listen to, things to watch and read. I’ve got hobbies and responsibilities. Being an adult takes up a lot of spare time.

However, none of that mattered the other night when Fleet Foxes took the stage at Massey Hall. I got into these guys a week after their 2008 performance at the Bruce Mason theatre. The next time they came to town, I was overseas. I think there was some music festival I meant to go to, but that never worked out. We’ve been passing like ships in the night (they felt my profound absence from their tours, I’m sure). Finally the universe aligned and came together under the roof of my favourite Toronto venue. One of the rare venues where the sound techs are so good I don’t need to wear earplugs. The lighting techs make the most grand displays. The acoustics are phenomenal and the whole building is gorgeous. If an artist I love has a show there it’s pretty hard to pass up that chance.

It took about ten minutes for the band to engage the audience. In my head I’d always had this picture of Fleet Foxes as uptight, pretentious artwank douches. I couldn’t have been more off-base. They were amicable and loquacious, taking time to banter with the crowd. A crowd that was strangely aggressive heckle-wise. Once again, I expected that the band would shut that the fuck down, but instead lead singer Robin Pecknold accommodated it. He’d listen and respond. They’d goof around playing snippets of covers (“Exit Music for a Film”, “Here Comes the Sun”) or in general joking around with audience members. That unfortunately encouraged a deluge of dickheads from the crowd to call out, but didn’t tarnish an amazing gig.

It’s something truly special when a band you’ve been waiting for delivers in stunning fashion. Everything sounded phenomenal and the choice of visuals brought it all to the fore. The harmonies were rich and bold. Their track selection was astounding. I can’t think of any songs I craved that they missed. The old classics scratched the itch I’d built up for years. The new material added a interesting dynamic. It played on a stronger sense of juxtaposition, something that was viscerally felt live. I can’t imagine them having performed a better gig, which is the most sensational feeling when it’s something I’ve been longing for. At times it’s easy to forget how much live music resonates deeply within you.

Like every good gig, it’s making me question why I don’t go out to concerts more often. It’s making me wonder how long I’ll have to wait until the next big one (September 18th, Father John Misty). Mostly though, it’s filling my mind with memories and my heart with goodwill.

In short, it’s about time I added more names to that bucket list.

Happy T’ronahversary to me.

Happy Toronto Birthday to me. Four years to the day where I first wondered if I was walking into a hotbed of authoritarian surveillance. Four fantastic years where I’ve borderline Eat Pray Love‘d myself into a journey of self-discovery. I ate and had sex a bunch, anyway (though sadly never simultaneously), plus adopted a wide enough smile to make Julia Roberts frown with envy.

My path to Toronto wasn’t straight or direct. In fact it took many years before I even thought of it as a destination. Age five I decided that when I grew up I’d harness my citizenship and live in Canada. They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but with New Zealand’s famed agricultural economy, it was ironic I was so avid to head somewhere US adjacent. It seemed different and exotic, plus they sounded like people in the movies. At age 20 I begun to give it more thought. I’d recently watched Juno and fallen head-over-heels for the idea of Ellen Page. I decided I’d move to Halifax and miraculously stumble into some kind of meet cute. Roll the credits (complete with Hand Drawn Block Letters). Why not? It was a quietly hip port town with a ton of breweries. Sure, I wasn’t into anything quiet or port, but things would work out. Remember the meet cute I probably told myself every night before going to bed.

Then it was Vancouver. I had family in Vancouver and the transition would be easy. I’d lodge somewhere then make my mark on the city. It was a city, right? With my generic media aspirations, I’d slot in just fine. I’d be close to Whistler in case I wanted to… wait, I didn’t really like outdoorsy stuff. What would I do in Whistler? I’d work out the details later, that’s what I’d do. I told some dude at a party just that once and he shook his head. “Toronto is where you want to be, man.” Toronto? I hadn’t really heard of Toronto. “It’s the biggest city in Canada and if you want to get into the media, there’s no better place in the country.” This wasn’t some good friend, just some dude I talked to a handful of times. I’ve got no idea if he has any concept of how much that conversation shaped my life. In the few minutes we talked, my totally vague plans became slightly less vague.

***Several Years Later***

I was 26 years old and I’d just been through the biggest breakup of my life. I was on a short term contract with the local university and it was coming to a close. There was funding for an interesting new contract, but I thought again. I’d never put down the torch I was holding for moving away. It’d been a not-insignificant part of the breakup. As soon as it ended, things fell into place. I bought a one way ticket to Vancouver (with the goal of heading to Toronto via Montreal) a few weeks later. I’ve never looked back.

Starting anew in Toronto was both hard and not. Picking up the pieces is always gonna be tricky, but Toronto kept throwing opportunity after opportunity at me. I hit the ground and started getting out to all kinds of events. I needed people in my life and I found them with ease. Walking back from a concert, running from a bus, OkCupid dates, movie screenings and Magic the Gathering games. Employment was less forthcoming, but I took whatever came my way and rolled with it. I tried and learned things I never imagined: Teaching gymnastics, feeding kids in schools, being a test subject, working the election polling booth, trying my hand as a barista. Toronto meant discovery, excitement and eventually community.

Perhaps it was a matter of getting out what I put in. Reaping the rewards of saying yes to the call of adventure. Maybe I lucked out, or learned to see the potential in coincidence. Toronto has given me so much, including a new lease on life. Over the past few years I’ve changed in ways that I’m still realising from day to day. I hear people talk about how cold Toronto is and possibly I missed out on that because of Accent Privilege. In my time here though, I’ve learned something about this city.

Toronto’s heart beats in its inhabitants, who create something larger than their sum. Toronto is discovering just how much people can surprise and impress you. Toronto is about learning the importance of saying yes, because opportunity is waiting for you to find it. Opportunity might not look like an Ellen Page meet cute, but that’s not to say that your wildest dreams are out of reach.

I mean, The Pink Ranger lives here you guise.

Is there anything mo 90s than Space Jam Pogs?

I had Pogs as a kid, but I didn’t really know why. I think I primarily just wanted to order from Consumers Distributing. I may have been living halfway across the world, but how would a spread like this ever not be enticing? There was some kind of cheap multi pack of pogs complete with a slammer, special mat and some shiny ones.

I may have had Pogs, but I’m not gonna say that I got Pogs. Understood the ethos, anyway. Pogs didn’t make a dent in New Zealand. Ostensibly they had something to do with milk bottle tops? I had my set of ten, but nobody to battle with. I think I tried to figure out how to play solitaire. So mostly, they sat there, destiny unfulfilled. I probably threw them out, eventually. It’s weird, but even at the age of eight, I saw them as a thinly veiled marketing tool. This is saying something, I wasn’t a savvy kid. If it weren’t for my more pragmatic parents I probably would’ve been shaped into the perfect little consumer. I’d read Toyworld brochures for fun. I knew what I was getting into, but I jumped in with both feet anyway, because I wanted to know what it felt like to get a package in the mail. Shit, imagine if we’d had Amazon at that age. I would’ve never left the house.

I remember so badly wanting to get mail. My parents would get letters constantly while I stared with wide-eyed envy. “They’re all bills.” They’d say. “Trust me, when you’re my age you’re not gonna want this mail.” I didn’t care, in a way I think I just wanted to be surprised. When I mentioned how badly I wanted to get letters (it happened in movies and cartoons all the time), my mum turned it back on me. “You want to get letters, but how often do you send anyone letters?” I shook my head “no, I don’t want to send letters. I want to get them.” With the patience of an adult, she explained “but if you never send anyone letters, why would they send them back to you? If you send one of your friends a letter with a question, maybe they’ll send you a response.”

It was a light bulb moment. My bulb switched on. Dimly.

A friend was having a birthday and I saw my chance. I got a birthday card and wrote the following message:

Dear ______

Happy Birthday!

Is today Thursday?

Love Leon

Keep in mind these were pre-internet times, otherwise I’d obviously check out isitthursday.org. I gave him the card. He responded “no, today is Saturday.” I had my answer, but I was in no way satisfied. It wasn’t about the question. Over time, I’d get letters here and there. Our former Japanese au pair girls were lovely and sent the most beautiful letters. Invariably they were on cutesy cartoon themed stationary (Disney was a hot favourite), written with delicate penmanship. They became cherished possessions, tucked away in a special drawer for nice things I liked looking at (as well as many Christmas cards I never looked at again. I didn’t think I was allowed to throw away anything that had intended sentimental value. Once I learned that wasn’t true, I threw out almost everything of intended sentimental value).

I haven’t yet reached the age Mum was when she told me that bills sucked, but I’m old enough to have caught her drift. It’s rare to get anything great in the mail these days (whether E or IRL). A couple of times a year I’ll get a tax return slip that puts a smile on my face (last time I got a whole nine dollars!).

If only Consumers Distributing still existed.

If you took him to jail, would you be committing Scumocide?

When did you last walk into a room pulled straight from your heartfelt dreams and wishes? When were you last face to face with a tangible manifestation of hope? How did your mind react, knowing that the architects of your imagination had erected their monument within your arm’s reach?

Were you also at Tilt last night?

As a kid I adored arcade machines, or “Spacies” as we called them (the moniker derived from Space Invaders, of course). They’d sit in the entrance of takeaway shops or movie theatre lobbies. My parents would rarely give me money to play, so often I watched or pretended to play. On the odd occasions (a friend’s birthday or something) that I actually got to play, I lost my mind. Fighting games such as Street Fighter 2, King of the Monsters or Mortal Kombat 3, side scrollers like Captain Commando or puzzle games in the vein of Snow Bros or Bubble Bobble. I guess I wrote about it a bunch here.

I walked into the doors at Tilt, paid my $5 and had free rein on a collection of 40 or so machines, all set to free play. The aforementioned Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat 3, Captain Commando and Bubble Bobble all made an appearance. Live DJs played a cavalcade of cheesy 80s hits (including a chiptune cover of Haddaway’s “What is Love?”) and the bar was stocked with great beer. I couldn’t imagine anywhere I would’ve rather been.

Playing arcade games with an adult perspective is interesting. With their revenue stream dependent on players pumping in quarter after quarter, you can see how they’ve specifically engineered the games to feed the addiction. Captain Commando and other similar games featured unique and powerful character moves that would do area-of-effect damage at the cost of HP. Health items were few and far between, meaning that the more you used these moves, the more likely you’d have to keep paying the toll to stay in the game. NBA Jam was fucking great. A four player machine. In the years since childhood I’d forgotten that players had to pay per quarter (time period, not currency), with the winning team getting the next quarter free. For that genre of plane games like Raiden, so many bullets were flying through the air that it was nigh impossible to survive without repeated cash infusions. They knew what they were doing.

On free play however, none of that mattered. A friend and I fulfilled a childhood dream and clocked Captain Commando. I finally got to use Mack the Knife (instead of my older brother repeatedly hogging him), the purple alien mummy with twin blades. I’d like to believe that even as a child I would’ve cringed at least a little to learn that the final boss’ name was Scumocide. Let’s be real though, I sincerely thought Street Sharks were jawsome. I was no critic.

I also didn’t realise how physically demanding it was to toggle and mash repeatedly. Some of those beat ’em ups were a one way trip down a long carpal tunnel. If I needed yet another sign that my body is succumbing to the ravages of time, my mangled hands tell the truth.

OH WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.