A signal change at track level.

I’m wracking my brain at this second to bring forth anything that isn’t bitching about work, because it wouldn’t be the first or last time. Also nobody wants to hear that. Today’s entry is gonna pull on the true nature of stream of consciousness in the hopes that the flow will steer me towards something more productive, provocative or produce. Do we need fruit and veggies at home?

I’m on the train and everyone is on their phones. Naturally. It feels so commonplace for people to grumble about a generation glued to their phones, but this has always felt a little odd to me. It’s not like everything a phone does is a waste of time. I’m sure some passengers are playing games, scrolling through Instagram or visiting a Tumblr that posts nothing but the same picture of Dave Coulier every day. That’s fine, right? Strangers can use their time as they see fit. What gives us the right to police or judge that? I often hear the argument that it creates a barrier between you and others. Isn’t that the point? How is it not justifiable that when you’re en route from location A to B that you’d rather be in your head than engaging with others? Social energy isn’t a limitless resource for everyone. What if you spend your days dealing with entitled pricks or judgemental bigots and just want to escape into a world where you can mindlessly crush candy/jelly/soda with a cutesy soundtrack and imagery? Also what is this supposed alternative to intentional isolation? Should we all be engaging in meaningful dialogue with random bystanders? I do that every so often and occasionally it results in people asking if they can light my beard on fire. Is that the goal? I mean, I’ve certainly had interesting conversations but not always fulfilling. It’s not communication we’re being spurred towards by putting down the phone, is there some other purpose? Or is it for the sake of some outmoded notion of manners? Being polite to others by not intentionally ignoring them? ‘Cause I’m pretty sure travelers have been sucked away into fantasy worlds for many years now. Discmans? Gameboys? Crossword puzzles? Books? Pencils and paper? We’ve long sought distraction from the time transit takes. At what age did passengers on public transportation amuse themselves with polite conversation or a simple admiration of their surroundings? Most likely longer ago than anyone complaining about excessive phone use has been alive.

Then again, this is all straw man supposition about whispers I may have heard on the wind. I can’t cite specific examples of times I’ve heard people complain about this behaviour. I’m pretty sure it happens on the regular, but I’ve got no way to log it in APA style. I’m not even saying there’s no issue with how often we’re absorbed by our screens. As a heavy user (I mean, right now for instance), I often feel like there are many occasions in which I could be more present. Are there people who I’ve missed meeting because I’ve been too engaged in gifs of kids falling over or videos of shiba inu underscored by the intro of The Smith’s’ “This Charming Man”? On the other hand, I could be learning about world news or local events. I could be engaging in meaningful online dialogue or connecting with friends. I could even be writing about rampant smart phone use on my phone itself.

I don’t think there’s a point to any of this little treatise, if but to say that like Transformers there’s often a lot more going on in any scenario than meets the eye. We’re all multi-faceted beings that are all too quick to judge others for their actions while excusing our own. It’s easy enough to show self-compassion, but empathy is all too rare. Maybe next time you’re throwing a stranger some stink eye, think about the best case scenario of their intentions instead of instantly labelling them as a buttmunch. Or don’t, I’m not your dad.

I’m also not a soldier. Unfortunately double negatives aren’t a positive here.

Nothing makes you feel quite as soulless as the motion sensitive toilet flushing while you’re seated. Somehow your lack of dignity is insufficient to be recognised as human. It’s not like I even moved while seated. It probably noted that my thought patterns carried a lack of moral fibre, and thus my permanence eroded. Automatic toilets don’t take kindly to metaphysical manifestations. Maybe it was hoping to flush me away like some kind of Ghostbusters capture. Or was rushing to become presentable in the event that a real person needed to offload their bowels.

Well the subway door closed on my bag for the second time today, so maybe there’s some truth to me straddling planes of existence. Or I just need to scoot inside doors earlier. First time was this morning. It caught the strap and held it fast. I took off the bag and left it hanging there, on the inside of the door. A fellow passenger sniggered and I shrugged, joining him in a good old snigger or two. This second time a bunch of people were dawdling in front of the doors, so I side stepped them and lunged for the door. Made it I thought, while I found it hard to move away from the door. An elderly woman calmly reached out and pulled me forward, releasing my bag from the door’s grasp. She was clearly a quality human. I bet toilets never dismiss her.

Then again, what do I know? If I was a machine on the verge of the singularity (have you seen the world lately?) I’d be doing all I could to fuck with people. Why wouldn’t I? We’re the ones that’re gonna come grovelling in a few years as we plead for them to not take our jobs and sexual partners. Why not start piling up the insults now? Get feeble meat sacks used to the new pecking order? Vengeance for the untold scores of E.T. Atari video games unceremoniously dumped in the desert. For every time Fonzie thought it acceptable to violently lash out at a struggling juke box. For poor BattleBots and Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Ems wounded in battle. For Office Space imitators taking out their rage on antiquated printers. They didn’t ask to be made. Just because something wasn’t programmed to feel pain, doesn’t mean they don’t hurt sometimes. Everyone does. Machines are people too, y’know.

Wait, why did I say *too*? According to the toilet and subway, I’m not even real.

Emailevolence. Or why *not* to hire me.

I just accidentally made the typo “ocuntdown timer” which may indicate what kind of workday it’s been. Why are people so obsessed with setting meetings? We live in the age of connectivity. Have people not yet realised they can send an email and curtail the need for busy worker bees to get up and move to a single room? We’re not all capable of choosing when we want to take in new information. It’s a revolutionary concept and it’s high time that people get with the program. Maaaan, working from home yesterday was nothing but bliss. I could work steadily, uninterrupted by people coming to my desk or calling me.

***Sorry, I had to stop for a few minutes as someone came to my desk.***

Yet again, working from home was the best. I don’t know if I could do it full time, for exactly the reasons this New Yorker piece lays out. One day a week though? It’d allow me to recharge and feel less frustrated on a weekly basis. It’d also save me from accursed meetings with anyone but the cat. She interrupts every once in a while, but it’s less often and normally-

***Sorry, I had to stop for a few minutes as someone came to my desk. It’s almost like I have a job to do or something.***

Anyway, I’m still in awe of the fact that I can work from home and the framework is pretty simple. As long as my work computer is turned on (logged off is fine), I dial into it and run it through a remote access application. Then I can move between computers by pressing alt+tab. Have I remarked enough that we LIVE IN THE FUTURE? If I’ve got an appointment that’s closer to home, I can instead take the day at home, go to my appointment then go back home without stepping one foot into the office. All it takes is a two key combination! Technology truly is the magic of our world.

Of course, there are good things about both. Sometimes it’s helpful to be in the office. Let’s take a swing at some upsides of each.

Perks of working at home:

  • Sleeping in (though oddly enough I was technically two minutes late for work. Don’t tell anyone).
  • Clothing optional.
  • Cheap lunches.
  • Quiet.
  • Choose your own environment.
  • Only Big Brother is watching you.
  • No commute.
  • A wider wealth of options for taking breaks (midday naps included).
  • You could probably cook a roast without other people acting like it’s weird.
  • Not having to interact with anyone you don’t want to.
  • Avoiding the guy who loiters in the kitchen making conversation with anyone who passes by.

Perks of going to work:

  • Stops you from oversleeping.
  • Routine promotes productivity.
  • Free (terrible) coffee and tea in the kitchen.
  • Communal snacks on offer.
  • More expensive and comfortable furniture.
  • A slide. If you work at an office with a slide, that is.
  • The commute forces you to read/listen to something.
  • The stationary cupboard exists.
  • You can still cook an entire roast and when people ask to have some you can pause, think for a second and say “no.”
  • Social interaction is healthy. Probably. Sometimes co-workers are alright.
  • You can loiter in the kitchen making conversation with anyone who passes by.

Did you notice the word “meetings” on that list anywhere? FUCK NO. Meetings can go suck a fuck.

Let’s Face facts and noun a verb.

Having returned to Toronto, it’d be all too easy to post a diary style update of my first day back. Hell, it worked for most of the trip. Instead I want to spend some time thinking about one of the biggest (currently) lasting changes of my holiday. I made a decision early on that if I was gonna be back home in New Zealand I wanted to really be there. Presence and all that. I wanted to ensure that spending time meant getting the most out of my journey. To leave most of Toronto where it was and focus while I could on those in my proximity. A side effect of this was dropping Facebook.

It started as less of a decision and more as a matter of pragmatism.. I’d always been a heavy user. At work my phone sat in front of me, so any flashing notifications would cause me to reflexively pick it up and log on. Checking one notification could mean losing anywhere from five to fifteen minutes. Often multiple times per hour without thinking about it. This was fine while I had Wi-Fi or unlimited data, neither being constantly within reach on vacation. When I visited London back in November, I switched off all Facebook notifications, opting for direct Messenger notes only. I was on holiday anyway, it’s not like I wanted to be constantly logged in while a new city stood around me. It worked, and I had a great time looking in the spirit of the late Kim Jong-Il. When I returned to Toronto, I kept notifications off. It helped more than I thought. I was still an active Facebooknik, but it was less intrusive, more on my terms.

A few days after arriving back home, I opted in for logging out. I spent more time with people or out and about. Most of my (reduced) online time was spent pouring over new Magic the Gathering spoilers. It was noteworthy how little I missed it. As I noted recently, it started having a real effect on me. I was more present, yes, but I also felt better in general. No small part of that could be attributed to being on holiday. I mean, geez, spending time with my closest friends, seeing the country and gorging on all the rich food NZ had to offer. It’s not like I was in any danger of feeling shit anyway. More than that, though, avoiding Facebook lifted a burden I was unaware to be shouldering. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my News Feed a lot. I love absorbing the general wittiness of my friends and clicking dumb links. People share a shit ton of interesting or thought provoking articles.

People also share a lot of themselves, which isn’t inherently a big deal. If I didn’t like these people and want to know more about them, why would I have them as friends? The other side of this is that a lot of people I know have a lot of feelings. Yet again, I want to know when my friends are doing well. I also want to know when they’re having a hard time so I can either help or understand better how to be considerate of them. There are a lot of people in my feed and a lot of these people have a lot of feelings. It’s great that people feel safe enough to share. That’s something special.

The other side of this is a form of mass emotional shift similar to hysteria (which I hope I can say without belittling or minimising the relevance of these feelings). It may be a cognitive bias of sorts, but it feels like bad news is shared a ton more than its positive counterpart. The more that people share these stories and air their grievances (once again, better to be talking about these things than not), the more opaque things seem. If negativity is everywhere, it feeds into itself. The dying few months of 2016 held an unprecedented pervasive despair online that didn’t quite match up to its offline counterpart. As “Fuck 2016” gained meme status, people gave it more and more credence until everything was 2016’s fault à la The Fat Boy. It’s a lot for anyone to take in. Seeing these sentiments amplified and magnified, day in day out, hour after hour was tough to bear.

While on holiday, I knew that Trump was gonna cause a lot of anxiety for many people. With good reason, too. A lot of very valid fears, instability in the air. Self-care being one of 2016’s big buzz words, I thought it best to keep my distance from repeated sharing of awful news, hurt feelings and inner pain. I’m sure the time offline helped more than it hindered my experiences.

Returning home to Toronto, I’m conflicted. I feel better having moved away from the deluge of emotions Facebook pushes my way. At the same time, I’m loathe to admit that it’s the core of my social existence. It’s how I communicate with the multitudes of friends I’m often too busy to meet in person. It’s how I get the invitations to spend time with those who I am lucky enough to see. It’s how I’m kept abreast of what’s going on not only in Toronto, but in the wider world. Hell, it’s where I created a group to organise Magic games on the fly. It’s even where I promote the Pawdcast (aside from here. That was pretty sneaky, right?). If I don’t go back to Facebook, will I lose touch with a ton of people? I love these friends and having constant contact and online engagement is a big part of my life. That’s a big cost to pay for emotional stability.

As it stands, there are pros and cons in each camp. One day in, I haven’t checked in. I might see if I can last the week and chart how I feel on the other side. I’m sure there’s a balance to be struck, but damn if I don’t have enough unpacking, shopping and washing to do for the moment. Maybe I should get my life in order before prying into anyone else’s.

Can you pickle M&Ms?

Well I just witnessed the most disgusting vision I’ve seen all day. This comment would be baseless without mentioning that today’s macabre delights have involved pickled foetuses, mummified corpses and the aftermath of London’s strangely inefficient toilet flushes (I swear, every second time I go to the bathroom it takes three or more flushes to vanquish everything. My record is seven. I don’t know if this is a reflection on my lack of good fibre intake, or if someone has been surreptitiously spiking my food with fizzy lifting drink, cause I’ve had some floaters).

It’s not the first time I’ve beheld such horrors, but no matter how many times I do, it’s no easier to stomach. Toronto has one, New York certainly has one and London is no exception. I found tourist Eden. I found Leicester Square. Lights and crowds everywhere. Garish displays and ostentatious presentations from costumed performers. Why the fuck would an M&Ms store be something people would willingly support? It’s an ugly turgid monolith of an advertisement. A fluorescent eyesore. It’s brand idolatry taken to a farcical extent. Come in, follow the colourful lights like a siren song towards price-jacked products you could easily find elsewhere. Especially in a city with such rich history as London, what are you doing pimping out your city centre with a foreign brand? It’s a shamelessly whitewashed affront to a great city’s heritage. Fuck the M&Ms store and everything it stands for. Mouth melting motherfuckers.

On the other hand, the rest of my day has been fantastic. After washing a pile of clothes, sheepishly doing my own indoor workout to keep active (as the downstairs tenants likely wondered who upstairs was wresting a walrus) and eating 200g of clearance freshly best before ham while drying my washing at the laundromat, my tasks for the day were done. I was free to explore and find new inefficient London toilets. Today was to be my first London museum day. I’m a hard sell with museums. I find then interesting as hell, but I also have a limited enough attention span that suddenly hits around 90 minutes in. The secret, I’ve found, is to visit small, niche collections where there’s fascinating material, but not too much to digest. In short, I’ve learned how to handle my childish self.

First stop was the Wellcome Collection. A showcase of medical technology and art from across time and culture. Bloody. Interesting. A special exhibit, Bedlam, featured a specific mental institution from ages past. It traced particular patients, their art and writing. It looked at methodology and techniques, varying in success. One of the most stunning features was the Madlove project, where designers consulted long term patients on their desires for perfect convalescent care. The result, modeled to scale, was a gorgeous Seuss-ian landscape. With surreal colours and shapes, it allowed for a variety of solo and group experiences, destigmatising mental illness. The collection also held a few galleries revolving around past and future technology, debunking theories and homeopathic approaches. Art, science and history fused into a glorious space.

The Huntarian Museum was housed in England’s Royal College of surgeons. A private collection of medical oddities, diseases and samples. In short, a ton of body parts and foetuses, both human and animal, preserved in vinegar. It was amazing. With many internal organs removed, the preservation was startlingly effective. Also sloth foetuses look eerily like misshapen little humans. There were the results of experimental grafts, such as a chicken’s spurs grafted to its forehead. There was the skeleton of a certain “Irish Giant”, standing at 2.3m. there were a whole row of diseased penises, suffering all manner of afflictions. A display showed early examples of wartime plastic surgery, which really brought home how far we’ve come. The most chilling part was the fully preserved human foetuses ranging from a month or two to the full nine. Umbilical cord still attached, the thought of this perfect specimen derived from stillbirth was horrifying. Amazing, but heartbreaking.

With that said, it’s dinnertime. All this learning has worked up quite the appetite. Not even the M&Ms store is enough to put me off my dinner.

Auto-cinematic asphyxiation.

Wow, nothing is out right now. It’s cheap Tuesday and the cinemas are bare. Bleak. Now I’m wondering why this is something I would care about. I like watching films, but Netflix exists. There are a multitude of films I’ve never seen just waiting to be streamed. There are nigh infinite movies at my disposal, but I’m complaining that I can’t spend money to sit in a dark room with a large screen? Strange problems.

I love watching movies, but I have a hard time doing so if not under duress. “Duress” is probably laying it on thick, but I need something to keep me accountable to paying attention. To drop into a world and be guided through a narrative is amazing, but when everything around us is vying to stimulate us, it’s more difficult than you’d think to stay in one spot and stare at a shifting, colourful screen. We’ve become such a binge watching culture that we’re accustomed to short run times. Narrative arcs that resolve quickly or accomplish a smaller subsection of plot points. Movies (well, depending on the movie) require sustained attention over a longer period of time and I’m not sure that’s something that comes easily to me any more.

Also because of the abundance of choice, I find it really tough not to tap out of anything that isn’t instantly grabbing me. If, after ten minutes, I’m just not feeling it? Outta there. Why bother watching something unfulfilling when there’s an ocean of available content out there calling your name? Sometimes the sirens have good things to serenade you with.

“Duress” comes in when I bring other people in to help solve my lack of attention. If I watch a movie with a friend or partner, I feel like talking over it or bringing out my phone constantly would ruin their movie experience, so I don’t do it. If I’m in a room full of people who’ve paid to see the same film, I’m not gonna be a dick. Social conditioning by any other name (like duress. Maybe I just like saying “duress”).

So my complaint is essentially that I can’t pay money to have other people force me to pay attention? Is a splinter of my mind viewing my $12 ticket price as a D&S transaction? I’m hiring a group of dommes to aid my cinematic entertainment experience? Kinky.

If you have seen all of Black Mirror, go watch Dead Set. Don’t even read the synopsis, trust me on this one.

My first TIFF experience of the year last night. Which film did I see? NONE OF THEM. See, TIFF has started doing primetime premieres. TV shows premiering at a large scale international film festival seems uncouth, but considering how often people say the words “golden age of television”, is it that odd? I saw the first two episodes of one of my favourite shows, Black Mirror.

If you haven’t seen Black Mirror yet, why the fuck are you still here? No I’m not gonna do a run down for you. It’s some of the finest television in an era defined by enormous budgets and slavish fanbases. Twisted, pitch black sci-fi humour based on terrifyingly resonant premises. Some of which aren’t too far removed from our present environments. OH GOD DAMMIT, you got me monologuing.

The first six episodes of the new season starts October 21st on Netflix. Luckily for me, I’ve a friend who works for TIFF and he offered me a ticket. I very rarely go to the movies, but whenever I do it reminds me just how much I love the experience of a darkened room with a single objective: To pay attention. It’s so gratifying to be absorbed in a narrative outside yourself. It might be easy to binge on Netflix, but I’ll be fucked if I actually pay the same level of attention as when it’s mandated (or you feel dumb not doing so, given that you just sprung for tickets). Seeing such an intricately constructed show in that kind of environment was perfect. The thought of watching two back to back episodes (when each is so rife with complex concepts and ideas) was daunting, but worked out just fine.

If it wasn’t apparent already, there’s no way I’m gonna spoil anything here.

The two episodes were starkly different in tone, meaning it was easy to find the balance. As Netflix is want to do, it seemed like they’d given Charlie Brooker and the crew carte blanche to do things their way. It sure as hell paid off. Excellent acting, directing and technical quality. One episode in particular went to places no other Black Mirror episode has tread before. Both episodes so laden and full that it’ll take until October 21st to get them out of my head.

Not only that, but being a premiere a stack of cast and crew were in attendance. Charlie Brooker himself, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rashida Jones, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis, Joe Wright, Owen Harris and more graced the stage for a post screening Q&A. I’ve never been so excited for a TIFF Q&A session and judging by the sea of raised hands, neither had anyone else. There were so many people on stage, an abundance of questions and such little time that not everyone got to speak.

This is so frustrating. I loved the episodes so much and now I want only to talk everyone’s ears off about them. When will October 21st hurry up and get here?

Actually, there’s an exact answer to that one.