Are you Heron me correctly?

I got to wake up this morning to the news that New Zealand has elected a new Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern. I feel like this just washed over most of you, so here’s some backstory:

In New Zealand our government runs on an MMP system. To be honest, I’m not 100% on what that acronym stands for. Mixed Member Parliament? In any case, it’s proportional representation. People vote, they tally all the votes and give each party a number of seats in parliament depending on the percentage of the population that voted for them. They get one seat for every 5% of the total vote they earned. That’s super simplified, but my simplistic understanding could be why I think it’s a pretty decent system.

In any case, the two big parties (centre left to centre right) are Labour and National. I’m sure the difference isn’t as stark as the parties would have you believe, but Labour has a slightly more socially conscious bent, while National is more economically focused. Then there are all the smaller special interest parties who fill in the gaps and create coalitions to get the ruling parties over the magical 50% point. We haven’t had a Labour led government this decade, so it feels like a while. In part because Labour hasn’t had strong leadership in some time, but also because the last elected PM John Key (commonly nicknamed the smiling assassin, if you wanted a quick character reference) was oddly popular for some unfathomable reason. Can you hear my bias leaking through? Good. He was an old rich wanker/banker who frequently put his foot in his mouth. No, he wasn’t as bad as Trump, but that’s not a glowing review either.

This last election was straight up bonkers. First off, John Key (in an admittedly Cool Move) decided to retire before the end of his term to let the public get to know his choice for replacement party leader, Bill English. Made sense in the lead up to the election. English had run for PM before, but didn’t get elected. So he still hasn’t been elected PM, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Anyway, English was up against Labour’s Andrew Little in the main event. Little still wasn’t popular and was getting crushed in the polls. With something like three or four months until the election, Labour decided to jettison Little and put popular List MP Jacinda Adern in his place. It was a gamble for sure. Jacinda had been a career politician for all of her adult life, but at 37 that was maybe 15 years or so. She’d been doing a ton of good work, was young and passionate about social causes and well spoken. She didn’t have much leadership experience- which is I guess a desired qualification for the country’s top position- but in a dire time there was no better candidate. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m ragging on her. For years I’ve thought she seemed competent, focused and that her heart was in the right place. Plus she knows how to DJ. You can bet your ass she’d run a fun political party. Maybe now the ‘M’ in MMP will stand for “Mixtape”.

Anyway, she ran a solid campaign, Labour bounced back as the country was hungry for a change. It’s not like she’s our first female PM (third. Only our second elected), but the top governmental seats had been pretty male dominated for a while. I’m sure at this point you’re all “yeah dickhead, we know she won. End of story.” Not so, assumptive reader! The votes came out to something like 37% Labour and 45% National. Greens formed a coalition with Labour (which was always on the cards), bringing the overall coalition to something like 43%. Then came Winston Peters. Peters is a character. He’s been around in Parliament forever. Maybe he’s part bed bug? Kind of reminds me of Saul from Better Call Saul. He was a former lawyer, maybe that’s it. He’s a constant agitator. I’m not sure how great he is in a position of influence, but he sure keeps everyone honest. Old people love him for some reason. Anyway, his party NZ First got about 7%. None of the unmentioned parties got enough votes to gain a seat, so ol’ Winnie was thrust into the position of kingmaker. Would you want Saul Goodman in the position if parliamentary kingmaker? How do you think that’d go? Meetings. Deals struck behind closed doors. After several weeks without a new government, New Zealanders begun channeling that emotional energy into somewhere it could do some good: NZ Forest and Bird’s annual Bird of the Year competition. Looks like Kea’s gonna scoop up a first time win this year. Good on it. Clever bird. Destroys cars with its beak, for real.

Anyway, after much deliberation on Winnie’s behalf, we have a brand new Labour led government. It might be idealistic to hope for real change, but sometimes I can be pretty damn idealistic. Congrats to Jacinda and fingers crossed she can live up to our massive expectations.

As for the other looming election, voting closes on October the 23rd. I’d say the Bird of the Year competition will be less controversial, but you never know…

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A good head on my shul-ders.

Just For Laughs is about to begin and thrust my life into chaos. For a basis of comparison, where’s my life at now? Is it any more stable?

Of course not. That was a bullshit premise concocted in order to excuse any bollocks I wrote afterwards. For some reason this morning a memory popped into my head. It was high school. I was running for deputy head boy. Yes, really, I ran on a platform of ‘let’s not shit ourselves. We all know who’s going to win.’ He did, after all. In any case, I knew I was really in the running when my best friend showed up at my front door in the morning before school. “So I put up your campaign posters” he proudly exclaimed. “Campaign posters?” I queried, expecting the worst. He pulled out a stack of papers emblazoned with the image of a rabbi, yarmulke and all. Plastered above the image were the words “I’d vote for a Jew. Wouldn’t you?” Below read “Vote Leon for Deputy Head Boy.” I literally facepalmed, IRL, etc. He’d stapled them up all around the school. I was a relatively known person anyway, but given that nobody else had the audacity (I guess I should include myself in that group) to put together a campaign whatsoever, it gave me a short burst of limited popularity.

In the lead up to the “election” students excitedly came up to me. “Are you the Jew?” They asked gleefully. I’d sigh and shake their outstretched hands. I guess I had a platform. It was silly and didn’t matter. I think I went for it primarily because I thought it’d help my chances of university acceptance. Maybe I’d get inducted into a fancy illuminati cult or something. Also I dug the fuck out of public speaking and wanted an excuse to write a speech. Speeches have always been one of my favourite things to do. Don’t ask me why. Narcissism and a captive audience, probably. Anyway. I treated the speech like stand up. It was likely pretty dumb. The only line I remember was “well as my campaign posters indicated, I am a Jew (break for laughs). So I guess I lost all the Nazi votes out there.” I got an applause break and everything. I guess we were easily entertained back then. These days losing the Nazi votes is apparently a deal breaker. It was all pretty tame. As I said, the guy who we expected to win did. I didn’t, but I got some Arts and Cultural Captain role as a consolation. It’s fine, I didn’t need the extra responsibilities. I had a lot of anime to watch and video games to play in those days. Priorities.

Ugh, remember feeling like you were heading somewhere in your life? When Nazis were these extinct concepts we warned our kids about like the black plague? I guess that’s due for a comeback some time soon. Can hope be too?

Even with eight legs you can’t outrun death.

Yesterday I encountered an event so momentous that it must be celebrated. The environs were innocent enough, with no warning of the epic occasion to follow. Merely my girlfriend and I eating a meal together. A simple meal, too (she’d snacked earlier, so wasn’t into anything grand) of steamed veggies, eggs and cottage cheese. Everything was prepped, we sat down with an assortment of condiments (the most vital part of any meal. I’ll fight you on that. Physically. Has grudge, will travel) when it happened. The words tumbled out of her mouth and I knew right away. I was telling my girlfriend a story she hadn’t heard.

This isn’t an everyday occurrence and I’m not even sure if it’d happen each week. So here goes.

Do you know how to catch common houseflies? I do. You’d think it’d be a matter of speed, slamming an enclosure down upon them before they could react. Nope, fuck right off. Ain’t no way you can react before a fly does. They’re not only quick, but they can detect movement in the air and act accordingly. Speed’s surprisingly the opposite of what you need. Catching a fly is about patience.

The way that we were taught involved a shot glass. You can use anything small, but it’s handy to be able to see right through it. You want the fly on a flat surface like a tabletop or bench. Position the shot glass directly above them. Slowly lower the glass. When I say slowly I mean glacial. Give paint drying a run for its money. One millimetre at a time. Show Heinz who’s boss. The secret? Keep going. You’ll think that the best call is to slam it down when you’re close, but you’d be wrong. Once again, flies are faster than you, but they’re not smarter than you. Well, maybe. I haven’t met all of you. Keep going slowly right to the bottom. That’s it, you have your own pet house fly.

Why do I know this? It’s certainly not because I had pet house flies of my own. That’d be preposterous. No, I had pet house spiders. Kinda. Our flat shared them. Well, a flat I used to live in before moving away. I’d stop back in most weeks when I was in town. Anyway. We noticed a decently sized spider in our kitchen one day and our friend taught us the fly catching trick. She informed us that spiders won’t eat pre-deceased flies, only ones they’ve killed themselves. So to feed them, you’ve gotta catch flies and release them into the web. The spider will notice the fly struggling by reading the vibrations on its web and come out to feast. It’s vicious too. You see its little mandibles chomping away on the squishy, crunchy fly. Gory as all get out. We named our spider Venom, after my favorite childhood comic character.

As we fed Venom it grew and grew until it was twice, three times its initial size. Then Venom had babies. One in particular survived and we named it Baby. Baby was a voracious little fucker and didn’t mess around at dinner time. It grew rapidly and soon was even bigger than Venom. We treasured our little arach-kids and continued to feed them for around eight or nine months, I’d help out whenever I was in town.

Then disaster struck. One of the flatmates, somehow not knowing that we’d been harboring pet spiders for the larger part of a year, freaked out at this so called “infestation”. It was a massacre. These little life forms we’d fed from infancy utterly obliterated. We were devastated and, despite the ludicrous situation, it caused a pretty significant rift for a while. We got over it enough to preserve the friendship, but the memory of our eight legged darlings has never left my heart.

So that sucked, but on the bright side here in Toronto we don’t get enough insects that we’d be able to keep spiders fed in the first place. I’ll miss Venom and Baby, but not as much as I love living in a relatively pest free environment.

Relatively. A cat lives here after all. At least the spiders were quiet.

Can I get a head start if my head’s in the clouds?

I don’t know why I ever set an alarm on Tough Mudder day. It’s like the night before a flight. The chances of actually getting a full night’s sleep are zero. Of course I’m gonna wake up hours beforehand too excited to rest. I hate resting on the best of days, let alone a day when I’m gonna run up and down a mountain and climb things. I was in bed at 9:11pm (never forget), but as soon as the clock struck 2am I bolted upright and that was it. I tried getting back to sleep for the next hour or so, but it was painfully apparent that I was too awake.

What was on my mind? EVERYTHING. The cosmos seemed to explode behind my eyelids and Ariel Pink’s “Round and Round” played on repeat. I’ve never been great at falling asleep, but this was Sisyphean. I tried to block out all thought, to think of nothing but black. This worked for a second before I just started thinking of different things that were black. My mind started questioning whether I needed to think of pitch black or if other shades were alright too. What about charcoal? I tried blocking things out with the mental image of a white void. Then my brain complained that black was more fitting, given it was the middle of the night, fundamentally a darker time. NO BUENO.

A friend told me that she gets to sleep by imagining a mundane task and going through it in detail. Dishwashing is her favourite. I tried, I really did. In my mind’s eye I put the plug into the sink, turned the tap to hot and squiggled a little detergent in. I put a plug into the second sink and waited. It was taking a while to fill. Isn’t this all in my head? I thought. Can’t I make it go faster? It sped up. That’s not the point, brain. It’s not meant to be objective focused, it’s meant to be dreary and boring. The sped up water flow stopped and went in reverse, back to the level it was at before the speed increase. I tapped my finger on the counter. I looked at the dishes stacked up. I don’t remember pre-rinsing these. Shouldn’t I do that before putting the soapy water in? But then I’ll have to run the water again and that’s a waste of detergent. Wait, this detergent doesn’t actually exist. These dishes don’t actually exist. Let’s just pretend that they’re already pre-rinsed. But that’s disingenuous, I never did that. STOP BEING SO FUCKING LITERAL. I got bored of arguing with myself and went back to filling the sink, but at least let myself speed it up this time. Then I figured since I was making this up I could just somehow run the tap in both sinks simultaneously. I started washing plates, holding them up to the light and checking for any residue. I saw a spot or two glinting. Should’ve pre-rinsed. FUCK YOU BRAIN.

I opened my eyes. 2:10am. Fuck.

I tried re-tracing my lunchtime jogging path. I ran all the way there and all the way back. The other joggers/cyclists/dog walkers in my brain still refused to wave and smile back.

2:30am.

I jumped back into my memory and drew on a long journey I used to take. Back when I lived in small town New Zealand, I’d drive to and from Rotorua each week to visit friends in Auckland. I sped through the route in accelerated time, seeing how much was still entrenched in my head. It was amazing how vivid my recall was, all these years later.

2:50am.

I felt hungry and maybe like I needed to poop. Why were my knees sore? One was digging into the other while stacked on top of it. How did I usually arrange my knees while I slept? Wasn’t it normally like this? What about the rest of my posture? Did I want my arms folded? Or did I want my hand under my head? Should the blanket be pulled this far up to my neck? Was I sweating? Did my girlfriend just sleep-laugh? Why was my phone blinking? Was that a message from a team mate saying that they were injured and couldn’t go? Had my ride fallen through? Well there’s no point in looking at the phone now. The blue light would prevent me from getting back to sleep. Would I be able to sleep in any case? Should I get up and start stretching? Had I overstretched already? What was the weather gonna be like? Would today bring injury? Was my meal plan solid? Or had I eaten too much roughage? Should I have carbo loaded? If I don’t sleep, am I gonna be too tired on the course? Or would I be wired regardless? Could an unsafe level of pre-workout solve all of my fatigue issues? When was I gonna find time to write today? I could just get up and take care of it before my day started.

3am.

Turn on computer. Pour a bowl of cereal. Poop. Load up “Round and Round” to get it out of my head. Start writing.

Today’s gonna be a good day.

That’s one way to put a bounce in your step.

 

I was thinking about this game Ricochet today. Despite the title of this clip, it was a piece of shit and I loved it in a weird way. A Half-Life mod, two friends and I tried it out to see how bad it could be. It was terrible. Bouncing from pod to pod in outer space, aiming to knock one another off balance. The controls were clunky and awkward. The gameplay was repetitive and stilted. It probably took longer to program than the entire time players spent in game. It’s questionable how gaming powerhouse Valve could’ve thought it had the potential to catch on, but life’s about taking chances. I remember this one afternoon where the three of us had nothing much to do. I mean, we were teenagers. There’s jerking off, video games, angst and little else. Anime, probably. So we spent this particular afternoon racing to try and be the first to 100 kills. We all had our particular gaming skills, and while I was likely the least competent FPS player, this was new territory. None of us had spent time on this game, because we were too busy doing things like trying to beat Final Fantasy 7 in a weekend. Y’know, trendy shit. We didn’t give a freak.

So we played this game. I don’t know how long it took. Hours, I’m guessing. We were learning as we went. At first we’d get killed rapidly. We’d catch each other unawares and knock one another off with these silly discs. Then power ups started to come into play. If you hit someone, instead of knocking them off, you’d decapitate them. Points had an ebb and flow. Someone would streak ahead, then the others would catch up and overtake. Kills were racked up. Then muscle memory kicked in. We’d learn how to anticipate attacks, read opponents strategies. Lives began to last longer. The slog from 70-100 was probably longer than 0-70. Because it wasn’t a well designed game, I don’t know if any of us were even enjoying it. Why would that matter though? We were in for the points. For bragging rights on something with no real stakes. The whole time we were yelling to each other “why are we doing this?” “Does anyone even care?” “Is anyone having fun?” Our cries were in vain. We didn’t stop.

I didn’t win, but I also didn’t take umbrage with that. In the end it was within 10 points. While it wasn’t that enjoyable, for some reason it created a kind of bond. Every once in a while we’d mention “hey, you guys wanna go for a Ricochet rematch so I can finally get my title?” The answer was a resounding “no” every time. Still, we talked about it far more often than you’d expect. From time to time the game still pops into my head and I wonder if anyone still plays it. Was there ever a Ricochet community? Is there some dude all lonely waiting out there in space in the hopes that someone will play with him? Did Ricochet actually mean a great deal to anyone, and if so, why? I’m not often 100% sincere, but I really hope there’s love for the game out there. Not everything has to be a success and Ricochet obviously wasn’t. At the end of the day though, it left me with a mostly positive memory that ties me to these two specific friends. I hope I’m not the only one.

I wonder if anyone’s done a 4K port…

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.

Hard to take it personally.

I’m using this occasion primarily as a chance to try out my fancy new bluetooth keyboard. Right now I’m waiting on the subway platform. While I’m a massive fan of Swift Key, it’s doing wonders to fuck up my typing here. It auto spaces after a full stop and corrects any non-standard words I try to type. It’s a work in progress.

I was thinking earlier how technically being a “foreigner” here in Canada hasn’t ceased to create strange little scenes from time to time. People remember me. I guess that should be expected enough. The Kiwi accent sticks out amongst all the Canucks. I was sitting at a cafe this morning having breakfast and I heard someone call out “Leon. Leon.” There were kids around. I assumed my parents weren’t the only people in the world to think that Leon was a nifty name (my life experiences aren’t THAT far from that hypothesis). I turned around and an older woman was looking straight at me. “Hey Leon, you’re ‘x’s cousin from New Zealand, right?” She and her husband had met me at a BBQ with my extended family. I couldn’t remember them, but with respect for my 20, my inability to recall doesn’t negate that life happened. We chatted briefly, before she let me get back to my parfait and coffee. Someone at another table overheard that I was from down under. “Where abouts in NZ are you from?” She asked. “Auckland” I replied. “Oh” she said “I have a cousin in Dunedin who’s having a baby.” I had nothing urgent to get to, so we chatted.

I say that we chatted, but more so she asked questions and I answered. It’s not that her line of questioning was unwelcome or overly personal, but that I figured the conversation was more for her than me. It happens, you get used to it. When someone hears that you’re a Kiwi and it spawns chatter, there’s always a reason. They knew/know someone from there, they visited/are visiting. There’s some personal connection they have and you become a conduit for that. It’s not about you personally, rather you’re a stand in for them to have purpose to re-engage a part of their life. Am I making sense? These conversations have nothing to do with you and everything to do with what you can be to them. It doesn’t happen all the time, so I don’t get worked up about it.

Accent privilege both giveth and taketh. People are genuinely pretty friendly when I speak. It makes it easy to reciprocate. Attractive people here are more likely to talk to me here than back home. When it happens though, it’s mildly impersonal. I look at it two ways. It gives me a chance to get to know those who might not otherwise give me the time of day. Weirdly at times it feels oddly infantalising, they’re amazed when I have a personality and know things, as if that would’ve been impossible for someone from such a “simple” country. I know that my heritage has little to do with who I am, they don’t. It also feels a bit disheartening sometimes, that people expect me to be some stereotype. It’s far from identical, but probably not 100% dissimilar to what attractive people experience when people chat to them for no reason other than their attractiveness. You realise that people’s motives are sometimes downright transparent. If that’s mutual, fantastic. Otherwise it can make you feel lonely and strangely worthless. If your value to others is tied up in a factor that’s outside your control, then how can you rightfully take credit for it? If this is all people are gonna see in you, how much are you actually contributing?

Like I said, it’s an occasional happenstance and the accent opens more doors than it closes. It helps make me memorable and generally greases the wheels of my everyday life. The ceiling and floor alike are both pretty high, so I can’t complain too much. Altogether it’s just a bit weird that four years in, while I feel at home for the most part, occasionally a few words can make me feel like I’m not.

You know, like being asked where in Australia I’m from.