I guess normalised nudity is in my rear-view too

All good things come to an end. I mean, shit things do too, but that’s beside the point. We’re on the road, leaving an unforgettable weekend behind. Taking nothing but the memories and excessive quantities of snacks we brought. So long, and thanks for all the MOOP.

It’s hard to succinctly summarise such an expansive, weekend of endless experiences. I don’t have the wherewithal to explain the complicated feelings of sadness over leaving it all behind, while craving so much the touch of my partner and the four walls in which we’ve made our lives. Can someone make me a German compound word for it? I think there’s beauty in the transitory nature of such a vibrant ecosystem. I woke up this morning and looked across the vast fields of tents and structures. In eight hours it’d all be gone, the Leave No Trace team doing their damnedest to preserve the land that’d given us so much.

Hyperborea was like altered reality. An extended weekend with no egregious interactions. Everyone greeted me with a smile or a hug. Their generousity was bountiful, encouraging sincere reciprocation. Any time I could help a stranger or do a favour felt like a gift. Like called to like and I loved being able to give of myself. There was nothing but greenlighting. The principle of radical self-expression wholly invited offers of creativity without judgement. If someone was to strip naked and dance around the fire, cheers would erupt. If one was to start singing, others would join. A vibrant celebration of individuality and reminder that none of us are truly alone. An overabundance of affection and faith in the human spirit. How do I not embrace total strangers with a consensual hug and a peck on the cheek?

I don’t know how I’m supposed to sit in a cubicle tomorrow. What does it feel like to not live communally? To hold in thoughts and not speak your mind liberally? To be so bound by social conventions and polite niceties? To have to wear clothes at all times? To hide your individuality behind the shell of who people want you to be? Who am I when I’m not being me? Or is the real question, how do I be the most me I can be while playing inside the structures of others? I was wrestling with identity while staring into the burning effigy. Now I’m contemplating what parts of me were sparked by the events of Hyperborea. What path will this take me down? Are there lessons to take away in order to enrich my life?

The trip isn’t far enough in my rear-view for me to see how I’ve changed, but I know for sure that I have. As we watched the temple burn last night I looked around the circle. The air was still and quiet. I traced the faces of all assembled, diving back into endless transient memories. Conversations and meals shared. Dance and massage partners. Experiences both ephemeral and lasting. As I gave of myself, so too did they leave part of themselves with me. Much as this all sounds like nonsense, I did preface it by saying it was hard to explain. If this is my self-expression, I don’t want it to be anything less than radical.

‘Cause Hyperborea surely wasn’t.

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Good ol’ fashioned effigyniality

I’m not entirely sure what I expected out of a Burn, but I don’t think I could’ve planned for any of it.

It’s been so interesting entering wildly different spaces. No matter the theme camp, the unifying factor seems to be an overwhelming generousity of spirit. An excess of gifting, both emotional and of tangible goods. Walking through the grounds, I find myself hustled over by well meaning folk. “We’re having a bacon party” they’ll say. An array of treats greet your eyes. Bacon wrapped marshmallows smothered in chocolate. Cream cheese bacon dip, chocolate covered bacon bit shot glasses filled with vanilla and apple whiskey. An angel stops by the camp every morning with home baked cookies. A cornucopia of culinary delights. Spicy tequila shots, distilled spirits, sangria, midnight poutine, crepes, cold brew and that’s just the fucking tip of the iceberg. Oh, and iceberg lettuce in the free salad bar. My stomach and heart have been so gosh darn replete.

The generousity of activities are a marvel too. Octomassage was something else. Eight people rotating giving the person in the centre a simultaneous massage. Eight sets of hands on your body was an enveloping sensory experience. Everything was consent based, with participants aiming to give the massagee their desired physical release. Having hands on your shoulders, upper back, feet and butt at the same time was unreal. There was such a sense of goodwill, with no ulterior motive outside of making the face down participant feel as great as possible. Especially after having received such a boon, it was gratifying to be able to give back and help others access the same joy.

The most intense experience, however, was the burning of the effigy. I came in cynical about city hippies coming out to the country to set shit on fire. When it came time for the effigy to burn, I was taken in completely. Seeing ashes blow into the night sky, strata falling apart, all consumed by the encroaching flame, it stirred something inside. I began to question the person I needed to become and what I’d have to give up in order to get there. The pain of separation a thousand times over. A life of constant death and rebirth, finding myself again and again. One of our blissful connections, a French Canadian dude, came over to talk to me about the Maori gods. It brought up feelings of regret, guilt. Had I abandoned my homeland? What had I taken with me? Was I too proud to admit the pain of separation? Had my resolution in leaving been the right path? I stared into the flames and wept uncontrollably, wondering when it was I’d find my path in life, instead of the purgatory of aimless drifitng. I found comfort in the arms of my friends as I sobbed into their shoulders. I unravelled, cut open to the world with a vulnerablity I’m not sure I’ve ever felt.

Something in me shifted, and I’ve got no idea how it’s settled. I feel different this morning, attuned with my body and trusting that my mind will follow. I spent time in the sauna, sweat dripping out of my pores. As my bodily fluids drained, I felt something leave me, as if a possession had lifted. I’ve remained naked throughout the day. I joined friends in the field doing naked yoga. I lay bare underneath the sun to feel connected. I’m starting to feel centred. As if I’m coming back to rediscover who it is I am. I’ve got no idea what it is I’ll find beneath the surface, but I know I’m ready for something different.

With no concept of what’s burned away, I’m excited and scared to know what’s left.

Being grounded doesn’t mean six feet under

I feel ungreat.

The last time I went on holiday I came back a new man. I don’t know what it was precisely, but it did for me what a vacation is meant to do. I felt renewed, confident and ready to tackle any opposition life could throw at me. The one bugbear in my life, my career (or lack thereof) taught me that by its status as my only real issue, stuff was going pretty damn spectacularly. I used this newfound vim to launch myself at everything possible. I made more time with friends and was enthusiastically present. I disregarded my displeasure for my job and instead focused on the things that fulfilled me. My attitude, which had been in a severe downwards spiral for the previous nine or so months (since returning from my trip to Portland), pulled out of its nosedive and ascended. Things were better than bad, they were excellent and I knew I had the personal provisions to keep up that momentum.

After returning from London, I feel the same way as I did post-Portland.

I’m miserable to be back at work. The job still sucks. It’s busier than it was and any motivation I garnered was dissipated by my disappointment that I never got so much as a reply about the job I applied for pre-vacation. I don’t feel renewed by my trip. I feel exhausted. I’m sick with a cold. 22 hours after touching down my ears still haven’t fully popped. I’m unbalanced (physically. I forgot how much hearing dictated your sense of balance) and all congested. I’m exhausted, because the cat decided it’d be prudent to meow outside our door literally all night. It’s Spring and the ground in Toronto is covered in snow. Physically I haven’t been active in a week and a half and my body is letting me know. In short, I’m a bit of a wreck.

What went wrong?

Honestly, I don’t know that I was ready for a vacation yet. My holiday in Austin was at the end of February. That’s only six odd weeks ago. Travel takes a lot of planning, which for me at least requires a lot of emotional energy. I didn’t muster up enough to make adequate plans and as such, the holiday suffered. Travel is expensive. My nine day trip to London, including airfare, cost about $1,800. $200 per day and that’s with free accommodation. The exchange rate from CAD to Pounds was brutal and my wallet felt the sting. Furthermore, aside from the wedding (the reason for the visit) and the allure of seeing old friends again, I wasn’t particularly excited about anything London had to offer. I just went to London back in late 2016. This time around, nothing was really taking my fancy.

Linking all this together, here’s what happened: I spent a bunch of money going on a trip I wasn’t hugely looking forward to. The pace of the trip felt off. I’ve gotten used to a certain style of holiday. I want to be on the move constantly, covering a bunch of ground, going to interesting local events, eating everything fascinating and having fun through spontaneous encounters with strangers. That to me is an ideal holiday. I just had my ideal holiday in Austin. London wasn’t my ideal holiday. It was too soon and didn’t scratch that itch. It burned more emotional energy than it gave and as a result, going on the trip felt more taxing than staying home. As shitty as it sounds to complain about a holiday, here we are.

I know I keep mentioning the finance aspect, but that really isn’t as much of the issue as it sounds. The fact of the matter is, I was in a really good place before going on holiday. I’d had a massive swell of personal development. I’d turned a corner on a truly shitty mire of anguish and anxiety. I felt like I could conquer the world. Now I feel like I’m back where I was when all of that started. It really fucking sucks. Maybe a good night’s sleep will make everything better in the morning, but I have an inkling that there’s something deeper at play here. Fingers crossed this is only temporary. If it’s not, I’ve got some work to do.

Aside from the shitty job, that is.

I remember that time that you told me, you said “Love is touching souls”.

I was listening to James Blake in the morning commute. No particular reason, I hadn’t heard him for a while. I figured I’d start with the Enough Thunder EP. When I got to “Case of You”, I put down the phone and really listened. I had a seat. The song’s outpouring of emotion had me stuck fast. When I got to the end I skipped back to the start, closed my eyes and listened again. I was pulled deep into a catharsis, releasing something held back by the stifling regimen of the commute.

I stepped away from the irritation of constantly moving my large bag so as not to inconvenience others, of contorting my body around other people and their baggage (literal and metaphorical). Of trying to be considerate of making space. Of encouraging other passengers to move into unoccupied areas of the train so potential passengers wouldn’t be stranded at the station for no reason. Everyone just wanted to get to work, so the best course of action was to make room for as many as possible. As Blake’s voice washed over me, I forgot all that. I thought back to when I first heard the song, working late nights at Sky TV. I thought of Joni Mitchell, who wrote the original. I thought of a Sunday morning post drinking at age 20. I walked into a room to find one of my friends peacefully listening to “Big Yellow Taxi”, humming along, blissfully unaware anyone else was awake.

I realised I didn’t know much of Joni Mitchell’s oeuvre and resolved to hear more. When I got to the office I put on Blue and went about my work. Something about the sound pulled me back to my childhood, to my parents. I’m not sure that my parents necessarily listened to Joni, but there was something in her sound that brought a scene to mind. In this mental snapshot it was night time. My parents must’ve been having friends over. We were all in the lounge. The long curtains and trusty old speakers stood out to me. The mood was jovial, adults chatting amicably, glasses filled with deep red wine. Plates were piled high and a couple of us kids were scattered around. The conversation was mostly going over our heads, but we were just excited to be around the adults that late. I don’t even know if this ever took place, but picturing it brought rise to feelings of safety, comfort and contentment.

As the album went on, it gave birth to some simple fantasy in my mind’s eye. In this fantasy my girlfriend and I go out to meet friends for lunch somewhere. We’re all a little older. The meal is great and laughter fills the table from start to finish. Phones are nowhere to be seen. We’re totally present and in the moment. We’re getting nostalgic over past adventures, stories we’d forgotten to the ages. It’s a long overdue catch-up and we revel in the affection we hold for each other. The warmth is abundant and it’s hard to keep from smiling. As we settle up and prepare to head on out, we all realise we have no particular plans. Maybe someone needs to run an errand in the surrounding shops and we decide to tag along and meander with them. The rapport continues as we mess around. It’s fantastic. Everyone’s doing bits and lifting one another up. We’re having a time.

The weather starts to take a turn and an idea sparks in my head. Why don’t we keep this party going, duck into a bottle shop and head back to ours? Everyone’s on board and we follow suit. We grab a couple of bottles of wine, order a car and pile in. The driver picks up on the vibe and turns out to be really interesting in their own right. We learn something new and by the time we’ve arrived, it felt like we shared a moment. It’s pissing down, so we rush the front door and get in as quick as we can. We’re all a little soaked, but the heat was left on. It’s beautifully balmy and inviting, despite our wet clothes. We figure we’re all friends and there’s nothing we haven’t seen of one another, so we all end up stripping down to various states of undress. Maybe someone’s still cold and they’re lent a plush garment. What we’re wearing doesn’t matter one iota, but what does matter is that we’re all abundantly comfortable.

My girlfriend grabs some glasses and I head to the stereo to toss on music. It’s something universally familiar, say The Big Chill soundtrack. Pillows and blankets are everywhere and we all cosy up with one another. We’re all chatting amicably, excited to be together. A song comes on and it sparks a memory for one of us. A long, heartfelt story is told, one we’ve never heard before, and we all feel privileged to be have shared in it. We realise it’s been a while since lunch and someone rounds up snacks while we all resolve to order takeout. We opt for candles in lieu of overhead light. The night continues in much the same vein. We lounge around, filled with wine, food, memories and song. The warmth we feel is in sharp juxtaposition to the storm raging outside. There’s an unspoken quality in the air that’s simply the representation of being excited to be together with the rest of the world on pause. The hours drag later. Wine swaps out for scotch and the music grows softer. Eventually it gets late enough that we realise we’re softly drifting off. It’s time to part ways. The storm has lifted. Nothing’s lost in leaving, because we’re all so filled to the brim with everything we could need. We don’t want for anything. A car is called and our friends get dressed to go. It arrives, we share long hugs and resolve to do it again sometime. There’s a note in the way it’s said that carries with it meaning. We know it’s not an empty gesture. Our friends head off into the night and we’re left with a warm, quiet house. One of us turns to the other and says “that was nice. Like, really really nice.” There’s no point in disagreeing.

That’s how I want to grow old.

More like High Confide-lity.

It’d hardly be an exaggeration to say that “nostalgia” was one of my six senses. It’s likely on a higher rung than smell. My nose is a fickle friend, but my brain is so laden with memories that touching, seeing, hearing or tasting something is enough to make me tumble back in time. My friend recently started a dating podcast. It’s in its infancy, but both episodes released so far are fantastic. Of course they are, she’s a real life matchmaker. In the most recent episode, she has a conversation with her husband. It’s great. He’s a wonderful dude and he so eloquently and systematically lays out perceptive analysis of himself and his dating experiences. At the same time, so much of what he said resonated intimately with my own experiences. It was like being 20 again, but with the filter only meaningful life experiences can provide.

I was a different person back in my 20s. Naturally some core attributes were still the same. I’ve always loved words and puns, been obsessed with pop-culture. I’ve been fiercely passionate about the things I’ve cared for since I knew how to form an opinion. At the same time, ten years ago I was still very much learning who I was. Hatching from the shelter of an educational system and crawling out into the adult world meant some harsh lessons were incoming. I had to grow and change in order to truly be my own person.

Yeah? I’m sure you’re asking doesn’t everyone? Sure they do. My particular struggles focused around one thing: Confidence. In some areas I strutted by comfortably. I knew I was smart, capable and likeable. Dating though? I had all the experience and wisdom of a child. Years of being overweight had crippled my self-confidence. I questioned why anyone would find me interesting or attractive. I’d say that I crashed and burned, but frankly it was so rare for me to put myself out there that I rarely had the chance. I’d get these deep and debilitating crushes where one conversation was enough to make me obsessively swoon. I’d waste an alarming amount of emotional energy fretting about how to navigate my interest, how unlikely it was that there was reciprocal attraction, etc.

Po, my friend in the podcast episode I linked above, addresses this well. He mentions how outward approval can become your sole motivation in dating. This hit hard. I used to care so much about how the other person thought about me that I’d disregard how I felt about myself. Clearly I didn’t matter, only they did. If I wasn’t the kind of person they wanted, I needed to be. I’d have to change myself to be commensurate with their desires. Po also talks about pedestal-ing, or infatuation causing you to build up the subject of attraction to a level of idolatry. This would happen to me constantly. I’d see myself as some kind of lower life form, which ironically is the least attractive thing a person could do. My response to my own feelings were directly pushing away the people I wanted to get closer to.

Worse, this had a negative impact in any relationships that followed. By seeing the object of my affection as more important than myself, I developed the habit of forcing myself to mould around their desires. While it was great to invest in someone else and care about them, the unfortunate side effect was disregarding my own needs. I’m sure you can see how this would effect long term relationships, right? Of course they all imploded. Unhappiness does that. I’d become gradually more wound up and embittered and that would seep into my view of the relationship. By exclusively catering to them, I also divested them of the opportunity to give back. People who love each other enjoy being able to help their partners and I was stripping them of that recourse.

I’m on the precipice of my 30th year, and certain things are becoming abundantly clear. Time is a gift. I’ve learned that piece by piece with each passing solar cycle. Each rotation only drives the point home. Perspective is everything. It not only helps us understand why the past occurred the way it did, but how better to shape our future. Dwelling with dread doesn’t serve us one iota, but reflection can help us better see the best path forward.

Or am I blatantly trying to justify watching High Fidelity for the 80th time?

Is this what a level up feels like?

This entry is going to be the epitome of vague-booking. I did something today that terrified me, but I pushed through anyway. There will be no specifics because there aren’t specifics yet. I don’t want to jinx a thing. However I’m nervous, excited, shaken and proud, which seems worth talking about.

It’s no secret that I’ve felt listless lately. Stagnant even. I’ve had no career movement in far too long and it’s caused me no end of anguish. My lack of direction has left me brick-walled and I’ve had nobody else to blame. Any progress would be impossible without putting in the work, which seems altogether too obvious when I put it in writing. In short, I needed to do something.

A few months back I was doing some voicing and a stranger point blank asked me what my dream job was. That’s a frank, bold question to lob at someone you’ve just met but for some reason without thinking I had an answer. It was thorough and direct, with more confidence and candour than it deserved, considering how hard my brain was scrambling after my mouth. I finished. She nodded and said “you should do that”. I stood there shocked and took in what I’d said. Where had it come from?

I thought about it for the next few days. I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the next month. Then I did something I rarely ever do: I asked for help.

I bypassed a few rungs on the corporate ladder and went to the highest ranked person I knew. I told him I had something I wanted to pitch, but felt way over my head and wanted some advice. He’d always been an honest, no nonsense person to deal with in the past. He never sugarcoated anything, but he knew what he was talking about. He said to look at his calendar and book an appointment. I booked something an hour later.

I laid out my idea in a vague sense. Told him where I saw it going, how it could be implemented. He tore holes in it, pointed out all the weak spots in my plan. He told me to come up with answers and schedule another meeting. I came back to him a week later with a more solid outline. He told me who I should pitch to and how to angle it towards them. Once again he poked holes, then told me to fix them and bring the answers in the form of a sales deck. I’d never made one, so he gave me concrete directions on how to structure it. Exactly how long it should be, which sections to focus on, how my content would fit. I came back a week later with my results. He critiqued it some more with mostly aesthetic advice and told me he’d let the party involved know that I had his blessing. He thought it was a great idea and I’d brought it up at an opportune time. I thanked him for all the help and went to set up a pitch meeting. I was told that they were too busy at present, but wanted to hear my ideas in 4-6 weeks.

I felt brushed off and rejected. Any momentum I had ground to a halt. 4-6 weeks passed. Months passed. Things at work got worse. I felt embarrassed that I had failed to deliver on the summation of my effort. That I’d wasted the time of someone important who’d put themselves out for me. Work continued to get worse and none of my job interviews paid off. It felt like I’d hit rock bottom. I felt ashamed. What a waste, letting this idea with so much potential flounder uselessly.

I realised that things couldn’t get worse, so what did I have to lose trying to do something about it? I got back in contact with the person I was originally gonna pitch to. They were busy, but booked a meeting a week later between me and two of their subordinates. I couldn’t tell if this was a meeting of obligation or genuine interest. It didn’t matter. I went back to my sales deck, tightened it up. I thought about how the landscape had changed and new ideas for implementation. As the meeting loomed I was shitting myself. I’d struggle to get to sleep, then wake up at 4am because I couldn’t stop thinking of ideas. I was nervous, excited and shaken, but I was ready.

Today I had the meeting. The AV equipment in the meeting room I’d booked didn’t work. They said it was fine, that we could find another room. We walked the floor looking for an unused meeting room with the right equipment. We found one that worked and I took a deep breath. I explained that I was nervous, that I’d never even used PowerPoint before, but I had conviction in my ideas. They smiled and I started.

I went through my presentation and spoke off the top of my head. Magically, everything flowed. I’d go into immense detail on one topic, then move tangentially into another without thinking. Then I’d realise that I’d pivoted to the next point on my slide without thinking. It kept happening. I expanded upon ideas in depth, threw out examples on the fly that were in themselves solid ideas. They were nodding, asking questions. Without effort, I had a good answer every single time. I was open, honest and realistic about scale. My concepts were relevant to the company and gave valid insight into how it could fit into and augment current strategies.

I got to the end of my prepared presentation and they kept asking questions. They started coming up with ideas on how it could work too. They got excited and started looking at the impending schedule to see how they could implement my ideas. We started talking timelines and practical steps. We kept talking. They said they’d run it up the ladder, get feedback and see where we could go from there. I felt anything but placated. I felt vindicated. I thanked them for their time and they thanked me for mine. We went our separate ways and I had a brisk walk to take a breather.

So what now? I wait, then follow up. I keep momentum without being pushy. I cross my fingers and hope that their enthusiasm was genuine. Then whatever comes, I follow through and deliver. It could be big. It’s definitely exciting (and a little scary).

It’s also leagues better than doing nothing.

Jeff Whinger would’ve been a less likeable lead.

You know how you sometimes get in a dark mood because of one thing? How all your focus goes to that one thing at behest of everything else that’s going on in your life? Those times where enough of your energy is spent trying to think of anything else, that you’ve used up any resources you had to do so? It feels like that’s been my past few months. I know I’ll emerge out of this dark hole eventually and in doing so, marvel at the fact that light exists, absent as it’s been.

Look, I’m not vaguebooking here. The only thing I hate more than my job at the moment is my inability to propel myself towards something else. Despite knowing that my job isn’t a big enough part of my identity for it to be absorbing the majority of my mental energy, I still have an inability to phone it in. Little as I care about the position, I just don’t have it in me to not do a good job. I want to not give a shit, barely tow the line and be astral projecting when I should be in the office, but I can’t. I keep doing a good job and my “reward” is that they keep heaping more work on me. It’s all kinds of shit.

Geez, when did this place become a whinge zone? I used to use it as a contemplative space to muse on happenings and curiosities. I’d let my mind unfurl and ramble. I’m not saying it was good writing, but it was a hell of a lot more compelling than “I’m 30 and I’ve realised I’m just as mediocre as I always feared”. I travelled and got invested in the world around me. There was some sense of personal development, progress as I challenged long held ideas. Instead I became Eeyore, but less adorable. Things have been going downhill for a while and I’m waiting for the upswing.

(Ready for the ill-advised Winger-esque monologue?)

Obviously that’s the problem, right? I’m waiting. Staying static doesn’t create momentum and I don’t know why I thought it would. I didn’t take advanced science in high school, but I’ve read the dictionary and as such I know that inertia is the opposite of progress. I’ve become paralysed by indecision and my lack of direction has me spinning in circles. Sure, spinning creates a certain kind of energy, but all it’s managed to do is burrow me further into place. What I need now is a propeller. Something to hold onto that can lift me out of the hole I’ve created for myself. I know there’s light out there, but it’s become hard to remember what it looks like. I need to figure out where I’m going before I have any hope of getting there.

Or, y’know, give up and have a kid. It works for some.