In one year and out another

I’m a week away from turning 32. That’s weird. I think by this point in my life I thought I’d have more to show for it than a personality and good friends. Still, a lot of people have a lot less. Years and years ago I had what at the time felt like a prophetic dream. In this dream, an abstract figure told me I’d die at 32. No explanation, just a bizarrely specific non-specific prophecy. No how or why, just a sentence. It’s dumb, but deep down I think I’ve always believed it on some level. Accepted it, y’know?

Unlike heroes of fiction, it’s never spurred me to greater heights. I haven’t warped my life around some quest for purpose on a limited time frame. I haven’t danced like nobody was watching on a mountaintop. I haven’t kissed in the rain just to feel the water form a conduit between my soul and another. I haven’t eaten, prayed, lived, laughed or loved my way across Europe. I got kicked out of the Church of Scientology once for being rude, but that was hardly a triumphant act of rebellion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not lamenting a thing. I consider amassing a personality and good friends to be a life well lived.

I might survive the next year, but I might not. Whether prophecy, self-fulfilling prophecy or dumb luck, it’s mostly out of my hands. We can’t predict the future beyond best guesses, and every time I watch a murder mystery I guess the wrong killer, so I have pretty low portent-ial. I could be sealing my own fate here, but maybe I’ll survive to be boring at a ripe old age. I think we all deserve the right to grow into our own irrelevance. What then? What if I roll the dice and overcome my own expectations? Do I have a game plan for survival? What would I want out of a life? What would I do with all those years? It seems like a ton of time to fill. I’m making it sound like a chore. I’m sure at times it would be, but it wouldn’t have to be. Not always. Let’s do a thought experiment. I say “let’s”, but really this is a one sided conversation. If I were to transcend the age of 32, what kind of stuff would I want to have done before my final curtain call?

Like a low-rent The Matrix, it’s Bullet(point) Time, Baby!

  • I want to eat everything. More accurately, I want to challenge my palate and discover exciting flavours I’d not have discovered otherwise. This means all manner of spices, food with unusual viscosity, game meats of all varieties, potentially illegal or problematic foods, breakfast for dinner, dessert for lunch and fondue for breakfast.
  • I want to travel, see sights, talk with strangers and discover walks of life far flung from my own. I want to stop travelling almost exclusively to North America, Montreal, London (England) and down under. I want to see Europe, Asia, South America and places that aren’t immediately coming to my geographically challenged brain. Just because I don’t know them, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love them.
  • I want to find a passion. I don’t yet know what that means. I’ve never had a true passion. I’ve had things I’ve enjoyed, but never something that’s come along and gripped me with hitherto unknown fervour. Life’s worth a lot more than what suffices. Once I know what that is, I’ll report back with gusto.
  • I want to get married, have kids, develop that peculiar fascination that men of a certain age have with World War 2. Just because I don’t necessarily value having a nuclear family right now, doesn’t mean I don’t want those things at some point. When I know, I’ll know. Or I’ll never feel ready, everyone will leave me and I’ll wish I died at 32.

I’m sure I want to do more, but these days I mostly just want to play Magic. Is this adulthood?

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An absolutely zensational outcome

I came into this weekend with only one expectation. It didn’t happen.

Consequently, or maybe distinctly in spite of that, it’s been a wonderful weekend. Wait, “consequently” doesn’t really work, because it was a thing I really wanted to do, and not doing it cleared the way for other things I wanted to do. The only plan I had for this weekend was to go with friends out to Pursuit OCR and play. We decided to head along on Saturday. I’d thought ahead about how my body would feel and set this as my weekend centrepiece. Friends from home wanted to get brunch, so I deliberately moved it to today, as a nice, relaxing option after exhausting my body. Even my gym workout, that usually would be a Friday activity, was moved. If I was going Saturday, I wouldn’t want to be exhausted from a workout one day prior. So it was sorted. Saturday play at Pursuit, Sunday brunch with friends, open plan around that.

Then I stumbled into Friday night’s date. It kinda came together organically. So I got a surprise evening with a lovely individual. I’d figured I didn’t want to drink too much and affect my Pursuit times, which helped me reign in the amount I drank on the date. Then after the date, having not re-confirmed plans, chatted with my Pursuit friends and discovered it’d be more convenient for them to shift it a day. They had busy plans Saturday morning that’d tire them out. I got my Saturday back. With total freedom, I decided to have an easy morning, go to the gym in the afternoon (since it’d been a number of days since I’d been active), then cook a nice meal with my girlfriend in the evening. As I tumbled through the day’s motions, plans eventually came together for one of our friend couples to come over and try edibles for their first time.

It was a swell night. Since it was a pretty new experience for them, we took things slow, little pieces at a time. Mostly we just hung around and chatted, ate snacks. We gauged how the effects were coming in for them and encouraged them to speak up if they’d had any concerns or worries. With all our needs within reach, it was a really sweet time. We played music and made up for the fact that we’d all gotten overloaded and busy towards the end of 2018. It gave me this appreciation for a certain spectrum of adulthood: This notion that we were in control of a situation, and had the resources to take care of others. If our friends got into enough of a weird headspace that getting home would be too difficult, we had a spare bed. If people were hungry, we had ample food. Whatever needs required meeting, we had them. We could put those worries out of our minds and just revel in each other’s company. It was a chill way to spend the night, knowing that today’s plans were to brunch, then go out to play at Pursuit.

I woke up sore from the gym, and ready to chow down. Brunch was fantastic. The couple we met, one of them was a good high school friend. His partner came onto the scene almost a decade ago and I’d taken an instant like to her. She grew up in Toronto, so we get to catch up with them periodically. It’s always a delight. We went to my favourite neighbourhood dive and scarfed up big plates of egg dishes. We drank too much coffee and swam back through nostalgic conversation. We listened to them talk on their travels, experiences and food. It was also just great shooting the shit. They’re good people and it feels pretty fortunate to see them whenever they shoot through town.

Getting home laden with a full belly (and a head jammed with coffee), I checked up with my friends about Pursuit. It got to 2pm, the pickup time we agreed upon. No sign of them. I messaged them. They’d just gotten up. They called, and hadn’t realised it was so far out of town. Also they were exhausted from the previous day’s activities. I thought back to the Mulaney bit about “cancelling plans” being this generation’s heroin. “We mainly wanted to make plans as an excuse to hang out” my friend admitted “do you just wanna come over tomorrow night for dinner?” My body racked with DOMS, I immediately relinquished the one plan I’d made, and I’ve spent the afternoon relaxing. It’s kind of amazing what you achieve when you put expectations out of the way.

Is this how I discover Buddhism?

I’m looking forward to our inevitable second date sometime in 2021

I went on a date last night!

It’d been many, many, many months since I’d last dated. Or maybe over a year. Wait a minute. I think I went the entirety of 2018 without going on a single date. Geez. Classic 2018. I guess that’s why they didn’t call it Twenty Dateteen. Or something. I’m sure some teenager dated 20 times and called it Twenty Dateteen. But this isn’t about them and their 20 dates. It’s about me and my lack of twenty dates.

But I had one last night.

The single date came about after quite some months of back and forth. I’m not talking a steadily amounting flurry of flirtatious banter, I’m talking nuts and bolts…

“Hey, are you free tonight by any chance?”
“Oh shit, I’m busy tonight, but can you do next Thursday?”
“Ugh, I’m out of town next Thursday, but I’ve got a totally free Tuesday after that.”
“Dammit, I’ve got Wednesday and Friday free that week.”
“Well damn, those are the two days I don’t have free that week.”

Lather, rinse, repeat since the end of July. If I got the sense that she was deliberately avoiding me, I would’ve stopped. But she seemed to be showing genuine interest. She was just very busy and travelling often. We’d met at Hanlans some time back and chatted, then ran into each other and chatted some more. We got on well and the conversation flowed. I posted on some poly dating group and she chimed in that she’d be keen to go on a date at some point. We started messaging and came to the conclusion that it could be fun, and if the worst that happened was we each made a new non-romantic friend, that was a pretty high floor.

Cut to yesterday. I had nothing to do in the evening and figured, why not send off a message? 4pm rolled around. I’d had no response and figured I might as well make alternate plans. Then all of a sudden, a notification “oh wait, I think I’m actually free tonight!” She had work the next day, so we sorted out low key plans. Just meeting up at a craft beer bar and having one or two drinks. She’d injured her neck, so I brought along a couple of capsules of magnesium citrate (they’re muscle relaxants, more or less) that she could take overnight. We sat down, ordered drinks and, well, hours went by.

Turns out I still love going on dates. I’m so into learning about someone new, what makes them light up and their dealbreakers. It’s all kinds of fun figuring out what you have in common, where your tastes diverge, etc etc. If someone’s had wholly different life experiences, it’s kinda exciting to see how they became the person in front of you. My date was a professional ballet dancer, so I got to learn a ton about what that’s like on an everyday basis. The relationship she had with her body on a functional level was super interesting, and how it lent itself to different forms of movement and physicality. You’d think that if someone did ballet, for instance, that they’d just have this all encompassing body awareness. Not entirely so, she said, since ballet is so strict and formal, trying other forms of dance often means breaking free from that rigid headspace.

We ordered another round.

She informed me that some species of otter can grow to sizes of almost two metres. Otters are adorable and great, but that’s too much otter. So I guess I can add one more seemingly benign animal to the list of species I need to fear. Chickens, you’re in good company.

We’d both moved to Canada as adults, so it was really swell hearing someone else’s immigration experiences, finding out what she missed and certainly did not miss about having left her country. We discussed the weirdest acquired tastes from our respective homelands. The Canadian foods we just couldn’t get on board with. What we did and didn’t like about this new culture and society.

It got late. I asked her if she needed to call it quits because of work the next day. She suggested we get another round.

It was also great to hear about her past dating experiences, both poly and not. Hearing what she’s learned over time and how her boundaries have been established. Discovering what she looks for, what turns her off and whatnot, it really gave colour to the scant outlines I’d drawn in my head after our past meetings. It was nice hearing about her partners and getting to gush about mine without that being weird. We got the sense that things were wrapping up at the bar, so we settled up and walked back to the station together. We parted ways and kissed goodbye, both actively looking forward to the next time our schedules miraculously aligned. It was sweet. I caught my reflection in the train window heading home. I had a dumb, dopey grin on my face.

I forgot how much I missed dating.

Tastes like home fries

At the close of any year, it’s hard not to be contemplative. We arbitrarily divide time by journeys around the sun, so it’s only natural to try and find meaning in why we do so. How can I condense this collection of 365 days into lessons I can take forward? If the past 12 months haven’t meant anything, why did I bother living them? In a sprawling, gratuitous year like 2018, I’ve been scrambling to make meaning of the madness.

Let’s see how this goes.

It only dawned on me, as I walked to my now traditional Sunday dive bar brunch, that in The Year Of Our Lord 2018, I’ve actively pulled in my locus. I’ve been here for over five years now. It’s the second longest I’ve lived anywhere. Moving to Toronto was the biggest shift in my adult life, and whenever something goes wrong, it’s the first place I start to question “why?” It’s only for a split second, and says less about any desire to not be here, as it does to my need for context. I know that this was the best decision I could’ve made. Despite the URL, I have no doubts about where I am. I think though, that I’m constantly looking for signs that I’m heading somewhere. An understanding about where I am helps me better see where I’m going. This year, I’ve started actually seeing my neighbourhood. It’s always been there, even if mentally I’ve been elsewhere.

I was a little (quite) stoned one night and on the lookout for some kind of comfort food. I thought to the Chinese/Polynesian place I’d passed a million times and never entered. I went in and had a WEIRD experience. I’ve found myself going back time and time again (often sober) and really coming to appreciate the place. It’s thoroughly mediocre. I’m sure I could get much better food elsewhere. I could order without leaving the house, but I have no way of knowing if their food would be cooked with so much goddamn heart. It’s a cute little unassuming hole in the wall. There are seats, a desk, and a door going back into a kitchen. There’s a gangly teenager at the desk. The kitchen is nothing but a dude and his elderly mother. He’s the nicest bloke, apologetic about things beyond his control, always tossing in a free coke or remembering your name the next time you walk in. His mum always has a smile from ear to ear as she throws in dashes of her own spice mixes and sloshes oil around in a pan. They’re the type of people who work so hard and never complain. It’s nice to appreciate people like that, y’know? I want them to succeed, so I keep coming back, despite the plethora of alternate options. Also it’s uncomfortably cheap, and the portions are huge. Also that.

I’ve had a local coffee joint for a few years now. My girlfriend and I love making it part of our weekend ritual. If I’m ever working from home it’s a total treat to grab a mocha or flat white to take back home (or, more accurately, finish on the walk). The owners are apparently lovely, so the employees tend to stick around for a while. They’re all friendly, and great at what they do. It’s always nice to chat with the British beanie dude about his new indie folk obsessions or stand up comedy. It’s the kind of place in which I now know where they keep replacement cup lids. It’s this kind of place because I’ve wanted to help out and restock the lids before, I want to see them keep ticking along. This place being around grounds me in my area, it’s a connection to ritual, comfort. There are so many great options for coffee around this city, but none of them are this place. They might be technically “better”, but better is subjective, y’know?

I’m writing this from my aforementioned dive bar brunch. I’ve searched for years for a “local” a bar or pub in which I could feel totally welcome. A place where I could either be ignored or find connection, depending the mood. I may have found it, even if I rarely drink here. There’s a jumbo hound prone on the floor. A man walked in earlier, took one look at him and said “aren’t you friendly and large?” Right on man, right on. The vinyl just changed from reggae to Dylan. There’s a jar of candy canes near the door for people to help themselves. There’s a timeless air to this spot. In a way, I come here to exist outside time. I pull out my keyboard and soak it in. It’s just me, a plate of eggs and home fries, and whatever rabble walk through that door. It’s the kind of bar where the bartender will, without fear, casually throw out “I’m just disappearing for a few minutes. Don’t let the place burn down.” Who would want to? It’s all drifters here, and this place feels like home. It’s been ten minutes already. I hope she makes it back. I think we all need whatever it is this bar gives us.

Putting it all together, it paints a pretty clear picture. These places aren’t new, and I didn’t just arrive here. 2018 has been year of withdrawing, cocooning out of necessity. It’s been hard knowing what holds me up when I feel like I’ve been endlessly falling. I’ve retracted, and sought foundations I could call on. In my lowest ebbs, I’ve sorely needed sight of land. Finding stability within my radius has helped me understand, in some small way, where I am. In other, subtler ways, having these touchstones has taught me something else. I am here. In times where my tether to reality has been gossamer thin, the feeling of belonging has kept me anchored. It’s stopped me from drifting to places beyond return. It all sounds trite and maudlin, but it isn’t. I know where I am, and I love it.

In times where meaning frequently seems out of reach, that’s a lesson worth taking forward.

When trees ask other trees out on dates are they going out on a limb?

It’s hard to believe that I sometimes forget I’m 31, not 25. If I’m ever in doubt, however, my body is quick to remind me.

Today it’s screaming. Muscles and ligaments alike are all howling in displeasure. It’s like my body is trying to morse code “mercy” to my brain, but with twitches and twinges of pain. My legs feel static and worn, muscles in my back I didn’t realise I had are making themselves known through soreness. My lower back is stiff and inflexible. Even my left thumb has given up the ghost for greener pastures. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for the fun I had. Why? ‘Cause I finally got to road test the new Pursuit OCR location.

I’ve been a fan of Pursuit OCR for some time. When I first heard one of my friends was working on assembling an indoor obstacle course race, it hit all of my boxes: Friends, running/climbing things, zero chance of sunburn. It lived up to all my expectations and over time, surpassed them. The obstacles all offered a variety of solutions. There were chances to go over, under, or even around most of them. The attitude was as supportive as possible. People were encouraged to play and not to stress about winning. There was an onus on accessibility for people of all fitness levels, a principle close to my heart. There were killer classes for a wide variety of athletic interests. It’s where I tried my first acro yoga class. They continued to evolve, adding new obstacles or changing up existing ones. Most importantly, it was fun as hell. The environment naturally fostered the kind of community who naturally bolstered others. I can’t count how many times I saw strangers cheering on other strangers. There was no coercion, just empathy. Pursuit OCR even had non-gendered bathrooms before it was commonplace. Effortlessly with its heart in the right place.

Then it happened. The ideal downtown Toronto location on Dufferin by Queen closed down. A new, much larger location was found, but these things take time. I waited. And waited.

Until yesterday, when I stopped waiting and finally got out there. At 75 Westmore Ave, it’s not in downtown Toronto, but still accessible by TTC. It does take a while to get there, so if you’re travelling via public transit, make a day of it.

It’s SO much bigger. From what I last heard, about three times the size. From the moment you enter, it’s wall to wall aesthetics. Aside from being a fun place bounce around, it was definitely designed for endless Instagram opportunities. If that’s not your think, you’ll just have to “suffer” through the fact that everything looks cool as hell. Shifting mood lighting in bold pinks, blues and greens, graffiti art walls, stacks of climbable pseudo Tetris blocks. The course has a ton of wicked spots to goof around and take great pictures. I’m not saying by any means that’s all it’s for, but it’s definitely an option and I know a lot of people like that.

Me? I just wanted to put the place through its paces. Thing is, even after stretching my dry old bones, I was pooped halfway through the course. We took it at a leisurely speed, trying obstacles multiple ways. Right at the start there are a series of blocks that are climbable, parkour-able and duck-able. My friend and I looked for a bunch of ways to traverse them. Then after spending five to ten minutes working over those, we found a neat three walled jungle gym. Solid pipes lined an overhead and two side walls in an array of directions. It was like putting together a puzzle, but one that played hacky sack with your lats. I felt attuned with my inner chimp as I crawled up the pipes, hung down, and walked sideways across the walls. My friend and I tried a couple of poses, giving a metaphorical middle finger to gravity. How often do you get that chance?

Look, I’ve described two, maybe three obstacles. There are a ton. They take inspiration from pop-culture as diverse as American Gladiators and Die Hard. There are ersatz vents to climb and slide through, complete with little fans at the back (purely for atmosphere, of course). The horizontal netting is exhausting to cross, but if you’re feeling frisky you can slackline the entire way. There are heaps of hanging obstacles, which explains why my upper body has given up the ghost today. The ring swings returned from the past course, over a sea of foam this time. There’s a room filled to the brim with swiss balls. I had a great time trying to walk only on balls without touching the ground. The bouldering wall is exhausting, and offers a bunch of creative solutions. The ball pit in this new location is enormous and deceivingly tiring. It’s right at the end, and takes everything in the tank to traverse. Of course, it’s so deep that you could spend your time doing cannonballs into it instead.

I haven’t even mentioned the drift trikes. This time around, there’s a fun drift trike course that weaves below the obstacles. The trikes have log handles and two big wheels in the back. They peddle exactly as you’d expect, but if you sharp turn the handles, you can drift around corners. It’s entirely like real life Mario Kart. It’s a simple enough course, but mastering the handling of such a dinky little three-wheeler takes an age. For the most part if you try to drift too hard you’ll just harmlessly turn in a circle. Maybe you’ll gently bump into the wall behind you. We had a goddamn riot trying to synch up our turns and go up the skate bowl style corner. We tried the bikes almost as an afterthought and they were a total blast.

I may be a slowly withering skin sack of bones, but sometimes I get to feel like a kid again. If that’s something you want in your life instead of just hate-scrolling Twitter (you can still do that too) check out Pursuit OCR.

Even with a sore left thumb, I’ll give it two thumbs up.

The experience does leave me wonton

Do they call it Boxing Day because after stuffing yourself at Christmas you want to take yourself back to the store and swap for a working model?

You know what? I had a great day and every inch of stuffing was earned. My girlfriend and I passed our most rigorous of trials and successfully ordered Chinese food. It’s a struggle for the ages. I’m a maximiser, she’s a satisficer. I’m looking to extract every inch of potential from any order and create the dream scenario. She just wants to have a couple of things she enjoys. It shouldn’t be so hard, but it is.

There are dietary restrictions and personal tastes thrown into the mix. Then cost becomes an issue, so it has to be planned economically. Restaurants with free delivery get prioritised, but then there’ll always be some issue with those. Either they’ll be closed on the day we choose to order or there’ll be a two hour wait. So we’ll look for options with a delivery fee, but then maybe they won’t have the dishes we’re looking for or might be Northern Chinese or something. Not bad by any means, but not having the specificity we want. Then once we find a place, I’ll always want to read reviews in case it’s actually terrible. Maybe the food will be subpar (and the bar is already pretty low) or they’ll have a series of screwed up/mega late deliveries.

THEN after finding a suitable place, it’s a matter of finding dishes that fit both the bare minimum my girlfriend seeks from the meal, and my desire to match flavours, textures, a variety of meats, sauces and starches. Like, fried rice is kind of boring to me, but my girlfriend likes it. I’m 100% fine with fried rice if it’s being used as a base for sauces, ’cause then it works well. But I always want to have a meal stacked with veggies as well as sauces and meats. Unfortunately, a ton of Chinese menus don’t mention the vegetable content of a dish unless it’s “chicken and vegetables” or something, so it can be a gamble and I’ll often want to hedge my bets with something where vegetables are mentioned just in case. But since I find “chicken and vegetables” kinda boring, I’ll want something with a sauce that’ll shore up any deficiencies of the fried rice. I like spicy stuff. My girlfriend also likes spicy stuff, but not to the degree that I do. With all these factors, it becomes a puzzle of working out how I can maximise the experience while meeting all of my girlfriend’s needs.

But since these aren’t concerns we share, the whole experience becomes stressful for her, because she just wants to eat. And time ticks on and she gets hungry while this three ring circus of option paralysis is in full swing. Then once we put together the perfect menu something will happen with whatever online service we used, so our entire order gets scrapped and we have to start again. After 45 minutes to an hour putting this all together, we can finally order. Then invariably there’s a long wait. Or like last night, they say it’ll be 55 minutes and it’ll be an hour and a half. Which is why we started our order process just after 5pm yesterday and didn’t quite eat until around 8pm.

Was that as exhausting to read as it is to live? Maybe get yourself something to eat. You could order in…

I don’t care how many Air Bud Christmas films there are (technically four, if you count the Christmas segment of the first), we’re watching anything else

Merry Christmas in whatever that means to you.

I’m still figuring that one out. After a lifetime of hijacking/third wheeling other people’s Christmases, I’m in the process of working out what mine resembles. My childhood patterns brought out my inner Grinch for years, but as a fully fledged adult I’m left wondering why be a martyr instead of merry-er? Over the past few years, my girlfriend and I have been practicing traditions to check which we like. We’ve held a bunch of Orphan’s/Misfit’s Christmases, bringing friends together at the table for abundant food, drink and warmth. Subsequent years after the stress of hosting, we’ve tended to pull back and try our own thing. Our last attempt at Jewish Christmas (Chinese takeout and movies) got hijacked by friends’ dietary restrictions (turnabout is fair play, I guess). This holiday cycle we’re trying it again. We have the house to ourselves (upstairs and downstairs neighbours absent) and no need to leave at all. We have a house full of food, an internet full of movies and a bunch of legal weed. We’re gonna get an excessive amount of takeout and pig out, like the Good Lord intended.

Still, it’s the afternoon. How did I get through Christmas morning? Well of course I woke up unceremoniously early. I played (lost) Magic for a while, brewed up some coffee and went for a run. It was blissfully still out on those roads. The footpaths were clear, save the occasional jogger or dog walker. Everyone smiled and waved back. The cheer was subtle, but pervasive. The roads were empty but for a smattering of cars. It was mildly chilly, but the ground was dry. A few errant snowflakes drifted down, but the concrete under my feet felt like a Christmas miracle. Aside from my creaky, ancient bones and joints, everything aligned perfectly. It was a swell way to start off a prime indoor day.

We group chatted with my girlfriend’s family (complete with the traditional holiday technical difficulties) and cooked up a big breakfast. Applewood smoked sausages, hearty toast and maple bacon marmalade. A vegetable medley with onions, mushrooms, capsicum and garlic, and two eggs once over easy. It’s quiet, but comfortable. Not traditional, but it could be. The lights are on, the mood is calm. There’s a peace to this kind of routine that’d sit well with me for the future.

Traditions need to start somewhere, don’t they?

Speaking of starting, what’re we gonna watch first?