Buckling under pressure.

Do you ever get these minuscule moments of panic, even when you know everything will be fine? Logic sits there flailing its arms while emotion runs in the room and starts shitting all over the walls? I had one of these moments all of five minutes ago.

I was in the bathroom having just finished peeing. I went to go and buckle up my belt and noticed how it could do with another hole punched into it. This wasn’t news, I’d bought an oversized belt because I needed one urgently. I’d recently put on weight and thought it’d be nice not pinching my midsection for a while. It was. I’ve dumped most of that weight, meaning the belt now feels more oversized than it did. The pants I’m wearing were also a purchase of necessity. I was running out of pants and needed something to wear to work (elsewise cycle between two pairs of pants on alternating weeks). I got something that fit, even if it wasn’t a snug fit. I figured they were cheap enough that I could always replace them later and/or not cry if they died.

Combined, this meant the belt and pants could both be significantly tightened. I grabbed my belt by the end and pulled hard. The buckle bypassed the first belt loop and tightly locked in behind. Now I had a bunch of pant waist and belt loop firmly wedged in front of the metal buckle. I tried to pull it back through. It wasn’t budging. Shit.

As I pushed, a bunch of scenarios flashed into my head. Coworkers walking in and pointing, laughing. My boss opening the door and quirking an eyebrow. Ritual tarring/feathering as a shaming technique. Dumb, dumb, dumb my brain shouted, but the buckle wouldn’t budge. I looked at the mirror’s reflection and saw feet in a stall behind me. Shit. I pushed at the mass of metal, leather and cotton, but it wouldn’t move an inch or centimetre (it did move a couple of millimetres though). I tried twisting and pulling, but it was steadfastly squished in place. I poked at it in the hopes that by magic it would unravel. It didn’t.

This was my life now. In the ten seconds that’d passed, I’d resigned myself to my fate. Everything was fine. I’d walk back to my desk and for the rest of my existence, I’d be wearing these pants. Guess I had wedding day attire sorted. If I was going out dancing I could affix little LEDs to the waistband. Maybe I’d get them treated with some kind of waterproof spray. Turn them into chaps for ventilation. Or perhaps I could find a friendly neighbourhood firefighter with a spare pair of Jaws of Life to come to my aid. Leave those godforsaken leg traps behind.

Then the magical science of physics came to my aid and the buckle popped out. My new life flashed before my eyes and vanished into the aether. I was free. I questioned why I’d ever doubted myself. I realised that I could do with both a new belt and pair of pants. I then realised that yes, I could get new whatever I wanted, but did I need it? Was this just capitalistic imprinting worming its way to the surface? Or a valid understanding of my own ability to get myself into clothing related mishaps and shenanigans?

If I cast far enough, shit might get reel.

Sometimes a moment of clarity will just strike you from out of nowhere. Like a bolt flung from the hands (or tentacles, let’s be real here) of a deity, an epiphany. While I was voicing yesterday, somebody from the station dropped into the studio to hang out. When I came out of the booth, she introduced herself. She asked me my background and what I wanted to do. Without skipping a beat, I replied.

“I want to make podcasts.” I said. “It’s something the opposition does, but we’re really lacking behind.” Someone else chipped in “We have them.” I nodded and replied “we do have them, but the breadth of subject matter is pretty limited, which seems weird considering the vast Intellectual Properties we have access to and our company’s push for consumer engagement. If having a social media presence is so important, why not offer them cause to spend time with us while they work? Give them even more reason to engage with our brands. It’s an intimate, personal medium. Selling the idea to consumers that we’re their friends? It’s hard to buy that kind of marketing. Why not do that?” I stopped ranting. All three people in the room were quiet, nodding.

Where the fuck did that confidence come from?

I’ve had vague ideas about professionally producing podcasts before, but haven’t given it a whole lot of serious consideration. Then all of a sudden that torrent came tumbling out of my mouth. Who would pay me to do it? Where would the funds come from? Today though, I’ve been thinking about it more. Who better than a large corporation? It’s not like they’d have to invest in infrastructure. They have the equipment, the hosting. They can handle traffic and would have umpteen ways to promote it. They have on-air talent. They have content that invites both discussion and promotion. We know that there’s a market for it, given the near ubiquity of podcasting. All it needs is someone to go to bat for it.

I’ve been struggling a bit lately in multiple areas. Aside from near constant impostor syndrome (though I assume this is a universal part of the human condition), I’ve been feeling really down on myself. For years I had a fire burning, mantra of Make it Happen running through my head. I felt indomitable and pushed forward constantly. The past few years have felt like a rut professionally and I’ve started to doubt whether or not I’m a capable person. It’s been harder to get motivated and excited about things. Self-esteem has given way to recursive negative self-talk and I’ve started to stop believing that I deserve opportunities.

This past weekend was spent in the constant company of friends. A couple of them were people I’m quite close with, but most were casual acquaintances. I had an amazing time, but one thing stuck out to me. Almost universally, people there saw me as quick witted and down for anything. They assumed I took chances and opportunities, that I was creative and hard working. Good-natured, compassionate and funny. They saw me as the kind of person I want to be, a person who boldly follows their desires and makes things happen.

I feel like I used to be him. That if circumstances align, I become him again. I realised just how much I want to be as my friends see me. I want to take risks and be okay with failing. I want to put in effort because a lesson learned is the worst outcome. I want so badly to believe in myself again.

If others do, what’s stopping me?

Thanks for doing me a solid, Snake.

Imagine having the kind of confidence where entering a room didn’t trigger your threat analysis mode.

Before we start with this, I don’t assume I’m anything special or exceptional from the norm. Then again, I don’t often talk with others about all of my eccentricities, so who knows? Every time I walk into a room, take in my surroundings. My eyes will dart around and even if I don’t get to look in all directions, I’ll try to get a feel for people in my vicinity. If I’m putting something down, for instance, I’ll do slightly exaggerated movements, or after setting it on a surface, I’ll pivot. Am I nuts? Well we assumed as much already. Is this, however, the central reason?

I don’t have a solid notion of where this habit came from, but I’ve absorbed enough pop culture that I expect misfortune to come from all angles at any moment. If it’s not a ninja, katana half drawn, it could be a co-worker ready to ambush me with small talk or a telemarketer (*whispering* they’re everywheeeeere). Frankly, it’s probably a latent habit from high school theatre. Having your back to the audience is verboten, so you learn techniques for subtle movement and turns. Side-on conversations, etc. I guess at some point I folded this into everyday life. Even, wait, ESPECIALLY at parties I’m constantly taking inventory of where everyone/thing is situated. If I have my back to a doorway, I’ll repeatedly rotate or gesture around me as a way of increasing my vantage. I’ll subconsciously shift or move, according to anything that could catch me off-guard.

It has to be a modicum of control freakism leaking out. As if instilling a belief that you have status in a scenario, when that’s still to be determined. Hell, even the fact that on some level I’m placing an intrinsic status into my interactions should set off red flags. I DON’T LIKE BEING TAKEN BY SURPRISE, ALRIGHT? When you assume everyone’s trying to get one up or wants something out of you, taking steps to mitigate their reach feels not only helpful, but necessary.

The flip side of this is that if two of me existed, I’d be my own worst enemy. I try not to telegraph my presence unless I think it’d seriously worry the other person. I’ll often quietly walk into a shared space (like a kitchen) and begin doing something without saying hi. There’s also the weird trait I developed after noticing that nobody says goodbye in phone conversations. Now if I’m having a benign conversation I’ll quietly walk away when it dies down rather than dropping farewells and niceties. I’d hoped it would make me more enigmatic, but people probably just think I’m an asshole. Not gonna lie, it gives me a little thrill to go unnoticed. Stealth is exciting to me, which is how I wind up matching others’ breathing and steps without any intention of doing so. I’ll be walking down steps behind someone and find my stride matched with theirs. Or I’ll notice the extra focus my body is putting into masking my footfalls.

Like every societal ill, let’s blame video games for that one. Playing through stealth games, sneaking silently often results in avoiding damage. Perhaps I intuitively translated that to real life. If people don’t know I’m there, they can’t engage me in boring conversation. I get to choose whether or not I want to opt into interaction. What could be better than that?

If I was a therapist, I’d have a bunch of easy points to pounce on. This kind of behaviour has to be a response to childhood bullying and its lasting trauma. Or to feelings of inadequacy. Desiring control on this level is less about getting one up on others and everything to do with intended inoculation against further hurt. I’m only human. If you prick me, I’ll probably bleed out in the gutter. Isn’t it better to stay puncture free?

Crossroads didn’t work out for Britney, why should I expect better?

To what extent do you define yourself by your occupation? Is the way you pay your rent aligned with the values you hold dear? When people ask you what you “do”, is your reaction to lead with your profession or hobbies? Or are you so disenchanted with your career that you respond with “lots of things” in order to pad for time (while you try to spin some scenario in which the world benefits from you waking up each day)?

It’s no secret that I’ve been having doubts (I mean, it’s in the fucking title, right?) about my career path for some time. For years I thought audio editing was my calling. Then after stepping off the path for the sake of a relationship and leaving the hellhole of Rotorua, I had to look for something else. I grasped around and in lieu of a career, I found jobs to fill the void. After the relationship imploded I bought a ticket to Canada ostensibly to start anew, but realistically to stave off asking the big questions for a few years. I surmised that the city of Toronto would offer a world of opportunity, and it has. Not necessarily in every capacity I’d hoped. After tripping over my feet for a year, I found them lodged in the door of a prominent media company. A promising path on which to find momentum if ever there was one.

The problem is, I haven’t budged. Despite desire and skills to move onwards, I feel firmly lodged where I stand. I can’t help but feel it’s a combination of naivety, inflexibility, laziness and indecision. I’m not well connected here in Toronto like I was back home. The industry tends to grow from student internships. They’ll typically do an internship as part of their education, which will flow into connections and/or gainful employment. I’m not blaming this system, it’s what got me my first real job back home. What this means for a 30 year old foreigner, however, is I’m battling against a well-cemented structure. The jobs that would let me move up the ranks are either going to kids in their early 20s or popping up in small towns. Here we come to inflexibility. I love Toronto. I cherish the friendships I’ve made here and the communities I’ve joined. There’s so much going on and the city genuinely feels like a part of me. I’m in a stable long-term relationship with a live-in partner.

If I want to move forward on this path, there’s a large chance I’d need to leave that behind.

That’s a hard sell, especially because it’d be re-treading ground I covered in my early 20s. I’ve done all this before. I honed my skills as one of those kids in my early 20s. I moved away to a small town and put in the hard yards. It sucked. At the age of 30, doing that again would be heartbreaking. It’s not impossible to see this as an option, but to uproot now that I’ve gotten settled would be a sacrifice of some magnitude. I’m quite unsure whether I’ve got the fortitude of will to keep my spirit intact over that kind of transition.

The only alternative I can think of requires an immense amount of hard work.

Which is where we come to laziness and indecision. If I want to get anywhere, I need to upskill. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot of capacity for me to do that at work, which means it’s something to be done in my free time. Here we come to the hard part: deciding what I want to do. Do I want to work with audio? Learn video editing? Write commercials/promos? Scenes? Comedy? Reviews? Am I interested in performance? Storytelling? Or a form of content creation that utilises all of the above? Unless I can decide what I want to focus on, it’ll be impossible to gain ground in any particular direction. In a city that values exceptionalism, journeymen aren’t employable.

So how do I pick a path?

But they weren’t even giant mechanical spiders? So heartless, but not Loveless.

If my Space Madness was low level yesterday, it became a full blown contagion today. Why? Watch the Skies, my dear friend.

As I said yesterday, Watch the Skies is a full on megagame experience involving 60 or so people in an international (and intergalactic) game of diplomacy, scientific development, espionage, military action and press coverage. Things started slowly and ramped up exponentially.

There was a mass deployment of alien saucers across the world. Some human nations rose to intercept them, but were easily defeated. Then nothing. Total alien silence. Suddenly old nuclear waste began disappearing from the map. The nations were confused. Why were the aliens ridding the world of nuclear material? What could be their objective? Were they here to aid humanity? Or did they have inscrutable plans to doom us all?

A rogue faction rose up, the Humans First contingent. “Why should we trust these extraterrestrials?” They asked. “They may be seeming to help us now, but what will they come for next?” Nobody knew.

Alien missions were conducted across the world with little to no opposition.

The aliens made themselves known in a press conference. They came in peace. Their goal was to rid the world of hazardous nuclear material that spread disease across the world. Furthermore, they had a cure for cancer they were willing to spread across the world. Or at least, to any nations willing to disarm their nuclear warheads. What would the nations do? Accept the alien aid, while losing out on their nuclear capabilities? Could the governments in good conscience deny their people a cure for cancer?

Humans first responded. “Would you really leave yourself defenceless against this menace? If we trust them, what will they do with that trust? Will they offer gifts in one hand while the other holds a knife behind their back?”

Riots broke out across the world. The human race was unsettled. Nations sought to quell these rioters and did so through military force. Bad press came from all sides and the nations’ economies took a hit. They were in turmoil. What would they do?

All the while, Aliens continued mounting successful missions across the globe. Their missions? Unknown.

Most nations took the olive branch offered by the aliens, save Brazil. Brazil ran with Humans First and begun launching a full scale attack on alien troops wherever possible. They were unsuccessful in all of their interceptions. Meanwhile other nations quietly researched their technology and sought to gain stability in their home nations. An Alien base was erected in Turkey.

Russia and the USA united against the Alien base and crushed it completely, gaining valuable alien tech.

Aliens began offering consensual operations to humans, implanting them with alien DNA. Many took them up on their offer. The Aliens gained a seat at the United Nations

Russia decided to launch a nuke at the Alien moon base. Many nations rose to support, while others opposed. Aliens attempted to intercept, but were struck down by a mysterious contagion developed by Russia. Despite a fierce battle on all sides, the warhead was successfully defended. It struck and destroyed the Alien moon base.

Brazilian forces marched on the Alien influenced nation of Venezuela. They successfully destroyed the insurgent army and annexed Venezuela in the name of Humans everywhere. Russia and the UK annexed another nation from Alien influence. The United Nations were in an uproar.

The final battle arrived. Shit went sideways. China built a space ark to leave the planet. Japan joined them and fled the Earth, escaping from all the madness. Russia and Brazil together successfully fired two nukes at the Alien Mars base. However, the base was nothing but an illusion. Their efforts left nuclear craters on the face of Mars.

Aliens appeared all over the map and humans intercepted, casualties on both sides. Outnumbered, many Alien missions succeeded.

With the war over, the true nature of the Alien mission was revealed. Earth had now been greatly infiltrated by Aliens. The result of their missions was slowly infecting as many humans as possible with an infertility treatment. 53% of Earth’s population were now infertile. India somehow escaped unscathed, thanks to their superior medical technology. Nations across the planet were irrevocably shaken, unsure how to adapt to this strange new world. How would the world cope? Only time would tell.

Also apparently Australia was overrun by giant spiders, that they then domesticated and trained for use as transportation. Stuck in the war room as Military Control, so many other subplots escaped my notice. There’s no way I’d be able to describe the sheer scale of insanity going on in that game, but I hope I’ve given some indication.

Once again, blame the Space Madness.

Oh, and in retrospect it tasted great. Hope that allays any fears.

I’m not really big into pot. It’s the kind of thing I’ll smoke socially from time to time, but it’s far from a mainstay in my life. I rarely clean my bellybutton (which is probably why it smells more like a bellybutt), but I likely clean my bellybutton more than I smoke pot. My girlfriend is trying medical marijuana as an anxiety treatment and she’s been pretty pleased with the results. Occasionally I’ll join her if I have a free night where I don’t need to accomplish anything. Not often, but every once in a while it’s nice to coast for a stress free evening. When it comes to alcohol, I have a large tolerance. Weed on the other hand, hits me hard and fast. I like retaining a certain level of awareness and getting high throws that right out the window. I’ve always been a soft touch on it so I’m careful to have only small amounts at a time. One or two puffs is more than enough for a few hours worth of mellow and it’s rare that I imbibe more. Last night we were having a couple over for dinner who’d just moved to Toronto. We had a tiny toke maybe 15 minutes before they were set to arrive. I had a drag and a small puff. Five minutes before they were due to arrive I turned towards my partner in horror.

“Oh shit. I am way too stoned to host a dinner.”

She assured me that we were a team and we’d get through it together.

One of my issues when I smoke is that I have trouble parsing information. It’s not that I don’t take in information, but my usual subconscious filters come out to the fore. It makes almost everything a conceptual minefield. Furthermore, it certainly didn’t help me prepare dinner. We’d put roast veggies in the oven much earlier, so those were cooking away. We’d chopped up and salted eggplant to sweat out the excess moisture. All that we had left was to pan fry it and heat up our guests’ shepherd’s pie. I had two pans going with 1cm thick slices of eggplant. One was large and non-stick, the other was a cast iron grill pan. Outwardly my guests saw me cooking eggplant. Inwardly my dialogue was a little more like this…

When was the last time I cooked eggplant? Have I ever cooked eggplant in a pan? How long did the recipe say? Five to seven minutes per side? Does it change if one of the pans is flat and the other has a grill? Does that mean they need different cooking temperatures? How much oil do I need? Is this a light pan fry or something deeper? Does deep frying even happen in a grill pan? Won’t the oil get stuck in the grooves? What kind of texture does fried eggplant have? Do I want it to be soft and gooey or crispy? Or a combination of the two? I remember something in the recipe about eggplant being naturally bitter. Is that a flavour that subsides once it reaches a certain level of cook-ed-ness? Or is that something I need to counteract with spices/ingredients? Isn’t eggplant umami? How do I balance that flavour? Do I need to add lemon for acidic elements? Garlic? More oil? But doesn’t eggplant soak up a ton of oil? Does that mean I need more or less? It’s getting burnt, is it supposed to get burnt? Does that mean that I’m cooking it well or does that make me a bad chef? Am I a bad chef? I know that I like it when there’s a burn to things, but is that because my tastes are weird? Or is it a taste that people naturally enjoy when it comes to eggplant? Wait, am I trying to place my values when it comes to food over the preferences of others? How am I supposed to know how other people like it? There are three other people here. What if I cook it in a way that only one or two others enjoy? Does that make me a bad host? Or is it impossible to guess how others enjoy things and you just do your best? Is this subjective or objective? Are the darker bits the more or less cooked parts? Let’s have a taste of one. Hmm, is that what bitter tastes like? I’ve forgotten what a bitter taste is. I think I enjoy it, but it has a certain aftertaste. I’m pretty sure I like that aftertaste, but is that just because I’m stoned? What if others don’t like it? Does that mean I’m being shitty to them? How am I even supposed to know this? Would I understand better if I wasn’t stoned? Do I normally automatically know all of this stuff? Why am I thinking so hard about something that shouldn’t be challenging?

That was maybe a minute of internal dialogue.

The rest of the night was just as much of a maze. I felt like I was in some dinner party disaster movie and this was my subplot. I kept saying things, but not understanding why I was saying them or how I gauged whether or not things were appropriate. All I knew was that I somehow had to make it through the evening without our guests knowing that I was stoned. I don’t know why that was such an issue, but I think it had something to do with this lofty sense of social decorum (when in reality if I just said “sorry folks, but I’m really stoned right now, so if I’m acting weird that’s it”, they would’ve most likely been receptive to that). I’m pretty sure I enjoyed myself and the evening went by without any major hitches. Still, even today I still feel a little unhinged. I’m still piecing together how my brain works. Like, at brunch this morning I ate grilled plantain and didn’t realise I was eating the skin too. I ate maybe half a plantain skin.

Maybe I’ll wait a while before smoking again.

Solipsister Act.

It sometimes surprises me how self-aware my dreams are. Last night I found myself at work. Well, in a new job anyway. I’d been employed at some large theatre (in the musicals and one person shows sense) but it wasn’t immediately clear what I did. I sat at a piano mounted somewhere within the crowd. I had my own little area, but was totally enmeshed in the audience. I wasn’t facing towards the stage, more so I was on the left hand side, looking towards the centre of the seating. Right in the middle, there was some dude with a massive keyboard/organ contraption. In retrospect he must’ve been blocking everyone behind him. No complaining from the cheap seats, I guess.

This fella was the main musical maestro of the show. A one man orchestra, he handled a ridiculous assortment of tunes, fingers tickling the keys like little spider legs. On the other hand, I sat at my old ragtime piano, dressed like an usher in a vintage movie theatre. A blazer with those gold buttons on both sides. Little cap and everything. I told the musician dude that I was flattered, but ill suited for the position. I had no musical talent and couldn’t even read it. He told me not to worry, that it was a player piano. Entirely automated. All I had to do was sit there and make it look like I had some idea of what I was doing. Okay, so I was an actor then? I could handle this.

Time passed and shifts came and went. For some reason I was a crowd favourite, even though I’d told my secret all my friends who came to see the show. Nonetheless I was a hit, profiting off the hard work of some piano robot. Fine by me. I settled into my new life away from the television industry and time passed pleasantly. After a while I began training new recruits. One show night I’d been working with a new guy, but he couldn’t find his uniform. It was cutting close to the show. We searched all the dressing rooms, backstage, through the props and costume rooms, but found zilch. I heard the opening notes playing out from the theatre and realised I was just about to miss my cue. The fucking show had started! I bolted out as fast as I could. I got to my piano and faced an angry crowd. Our resident maestro threw down his hat and stormed out. The crowd looked towards me expectantly.

All of a sudden I heard a voice from the audience. It was my girlfriend singing some pop song. After a beat or two, backing music slipped in behind her, likely from the sound tech in the booth out back. The crowd turned to her and started clapping. She finished and bowed. Then someone else from the crowd rose up and picked a song. Once again, accompaniment kicked in right away. Sound techs earning their keep many times over. Then another. The show turned into karaoke en masse. Success!

Not all voices were equal and my girlfriend was very clearly the star. She had a better vocal range and projection than the rest of the amateurs. It didn’t go unnoticed. After the surprise hit of the show, I took her aside to thank her.

Me: That was amazing. Thanks so much for filling in.
Her: It felt like the right thing to do, plus I had fun.
Me: Yeah. Well you were clearly better than the rest of the crowd. Your vocal range in particular.
Her: Don’t be silly. This is your dream, right? So in reality while I seem like me, I’m just another projection of you. That means you’re the one with the great vocal range.
Me: That’s not how dreams work. Like, I may have created you as a character, but that doesn’t mean that your skills in this dream translate to real life.
Her: You’re totally wrong.
Me: No way. I dream that I have telekinesis or Spider Man powers all the time in dreams. That never happens in real life.
Her: We’ll just have to disagree then. So are you gonna write about this tomorrow?
Me: I guess. Unless something momentous happens during the day. I’ve got nothing else remarkable to write about.
Her: Is this really that remarkable a dream?
Me: Well if you don’t think so in this dream, then I guess I don’t either. Let’s leave that to any readers to decide.