I digress in excess on progress.

Is it weird how much of our lives are spent online now? I don’t know if I’m talking sheer time or the amount of activities we’ve relegated to digital spaces. The point is, we invest so much of ourselves in this platform. It’s a marked change from 20 years ago, but then again, so is gender. Things change. I wonder then how much we’ve changed accordingly. Have our expectations altered given our constant connectivity? Working in television, I know our expectations have definitely altered. Immediacy is the name of the game. We want things straight away on our schedule, whether this is entertainment or communication. Waiting is pretty much insufferable now. Whether it’s streamable content buffering, a release schedule or a response from someone. If you’re online, why aren’t they? Is this everyone? Or am I the lone arsehole here?

I wonder if we’ve all become more or less insufferable than 20 years ago. It’s impossible to tell, because it’s not 20 years ago, our memories aren’t that great and we can’t peer into alternate realities through some high tech pensieve. I know for certain that I expect more than I ever did, because my expectations have been continually surpassed. The world kept delivering beyond what I assumed its capabilities were. Accordingly, my beliefs of what should be capable rose. Ironically in a world that’s transcended my hopes, I’m disappointed constantly. I’ve become entitled to this idea that the world now owes me the sensation of being impressed. With artificially inflated standards, I should know that’s not gonna happen. Still, I often catch myself getting angry with a world that doesn’t owe me shit.

Oddly enough, the older generation often has the opposite problem. They’re angry that the world has progressed beyond their comfort levels. In their ironic twist, we’re achieving what they fought for and it’s making them feel insignificant. How many times have you heard the refrain of “in my day we had to…”? Safe spaces, non-binary genders, a whole spectrum of sexual attraction and identities. “You want safe spaces? In my day we had to deal with polio. You can’t handle someone calling you a boy? We were lucky if we lived to 30!” I’m being deliberately being both facetious and straw-manning. The point is, people don’t have the same struggles because you beat them. Thank you.

The wars we fight revolve less around literal bloodshed (though let’s not undermine the fact that many minorities still face disproportionate fatalities in our society) and more about wars of identity. Struggles of freedom to be who you are, they’re a good thing. Believe it or not, this is actually what you fought wars for. Your generation died specifically so that this generation could have their battles be ideological. I’m telling you folks, you’re winning. Is the concept of people wanting a safe space that offensive? Are you really that against the fight for acceptance? Or would you prefer that they suffered the same indignities you hated? Because that seems like a shitty thing to wish upon others.

At the same time, I often find myself being a shitty person without realising it. I spend so much time reading the thoughts and feelings of others online and reacting. I might read something and feel inflamed. I get these uncontrolled, unmeasured reactions in the heat of the moment. Thing is, I’m not interacting with somebody else, I’m seeing their words devoid of their delivery. I’m taking the distillation of their thoughts, lacking the emotions that birthed them, then basing my reactions on how my brain filters how I’d perceive those thoughts in my head. So I’m reading those words in my brain without taking into consideration their gestures, inflections, cadence, or backgrounds. It’s pretty easy to see why we come to so many misunderstandings when we really don’t put much effort into understanding one another. But, of course, that would take too long and immediacy is the name of the game.

We could be living in a utopia folks, but it’d take a lot of patience and hard work.

Wait, I’m a “snowflake”? Have you looked outside?

With Toronto covered in a gentle blanket of snowfall, there’s very little that holds allure other than keeping cozied up inside. Retreat sounds like a fantastic word right now, seclusion from the world around. It’s a shitshow out there, but being holed up at home with central heating, food and internet is nothing of the sort. I’ve been thinking of the concept of retreat a lot lately, but divested of the notion of defeat. Retreat as a pre-emptive measure, taking time to reassess and recuperate. Seeking simple comforts, a luxury in this world where some people have so little. When comfort comes to my mind, however, there’s one sensation that rises to the top. Nostalgia.

As I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks, I’ve been falling back into old habits. Playing more Magic, listening to some of my more formative musical fixations. I’ve been thinking fondly of the video games/systems I so obsessed over as a kid. Sega Mega Drive, N64, old MAME style fighting games and side scrolling beat ’em ups. This regression feels symptomatic of a subconscious sense of loss, longing even. I’m casting my mind back to a time where I felt overwhelmed by the world around me, but excited rather than weary. Before cynicism kicked in. The future seemed so far away, but shiny and hopeful. Now that we’re in a future, it’s hard to look past how far the world has slipped. It’s hard to hold an unfettered hope for continual progress when the Netflix release of a Dear White People series prompts a #whitegenocide response. I guess nobody said we’d all evolve in the same direction.

My desire to reengage interests from when I last felt the world held nothing but promise makes sense, much as it disappoints me. I should be moving forwards instead of looking back. The answers aren’t gonna come from hiding away from the world. Still, this is why YA fiction has a massive adult fan base. It’s why we continue to watch shows with twentysomethings playing 16 year olds. A longing for a time when things were different, when responsibility meant that at the end of the day, your parents had your back. When the world was unfair because you might get roped into a family dinner instead of hanging out with friends. Seems leagues better than the potential of being refused entry to the U.S. because you won’t hand over your social media passwords.

I’ve been reading Max Landis’ leaked Power Rangers film script. It’s not perfect, but seems the natural evolution of the 90s franchise. It’s PG-13 material while still having an edge. It’s got humour and creativity while still paying homage to the goofy mess of camp that Power Rangers once was. It has unexpected twists and more characterisation than we’re likely to see from this solemn blockbuster treatment. I’m happy to be proven wrong (and they’ll still probably get my fucking money. Bastards), but outlook not so good. Reading the script of an IP I adored as a kid felt neat. I didn’t feel totally pandered to, more that I’d consumed a script written with deep enthusiasm for the subject matter. Landis may act a little entitled at times, but when he nails it he nails it.

I’m sure we could chalk this one up to SAD and leave it at that. At the same time there’s an obvious correlation between lack of direction and seeking out our anchors. What last made me happy? How do I bring that feeling back? How do I head towards it while still moving forwards? We live in that future now, surely we can bring the past along with us.

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.

I’m sitting in transit writing this. Seems apt enough.

It’s hard to gauge how I feel right now. Having just come off an 11.5 hour fight and still coming down off of sleep meds, my mind’s a bit woozy. It’s tricky to grasp on to solid trains of thought and there are a bunch of elusive ones slip n’ sliding around my brain box. I just realised that I need to do an entry for NZ’s 22nd of January, but also Canada’s 22nd of January. It’ll be two entries in one day for me, but should square things with you. With my current mind state it’s hard to figure out why, but all I know is that I need to, so let’s do that.

The one thought that’s making itself a constant is that I’m far more disheartened to be returning home to Toronto than I expected to be. Mum asked me on the way to the airport what big things I had planned for 2017. Right now, it feels like finding an answer to the above may be a large part of that. It’s strange, because I know that I love Toronto. I know that being home in Toronto I find constant reminders that make me grateful to have left in the first place.

Being back in NZ, however, I noticed the same phenomenon. It’s easy to find small things to tie the sentiment to: I think New Zealanders are generally a more pleasant and sincere people, less beholden to the strange artifice of implied social niceties. In Toronto, it feels like people act the way they act because of how they’d like to be perceived. On the flip side of that is accent privilege. I’m pretty fortunate to be living in Toronto with all the rights of a Canadian, but with the accent of a New Zealander. People straight up treat me nicer. People will go out of their way to help me out, in a way people back home wouldn’t. Without a doubt, it works to my advantage.

Whatever 2017 holds, I know I need for it to hold a big change I haven’t yet discovered. I’ve passed the “making it work” stage of my immigration. I’m settled, I have a place to live, diverse groups of good friends, local communities, custom Toronto coffee map, stupid but fun podcast, loving girlfriend and salaried position. I still have yet to find my why. I don’t know if it’s enough to straight up say that I “hate” my job, so it may be better to note that it’s a necessity that brings me no end of dread. There are places that this job could lead, but if it doesn’t at some point I’ll get more satisfaction from bashing my head into a wall continually. I don’t think this point is terribly far off.

I need a new job and I need that job to give back as well as taking. Something either creative or involved in the creative process. I need to be able to look back on a week and see things that were accomplished in making something happen. Going into the office every day to do the equivalent of drag and drop data entry would’ve felt beneath me at the age of 24, let alone 30. Despite the mitigating circumstances (having your company sold and trying to hold on to everything while hiring freezes and mass layoffs explode around you do factor in. At least a little), I’m disappointed in myself for having been stagnant for so long. It’s not why I left and it’s not where I want to be.

Most of all, 2017 is gonna be spent examining the above and working towards a solution. Why did I leave a situation where nothing was wrong outside of complacency? What can I do to justify my decision, preventing the same from happening again? I need to fall in love with Toronto all over again and I need to start making my life not the life I want right now, but the life I’ll want to continue building for years to come.

Working on my reflexicon.

For the first “nothing” day of the trip, things were busier than I’d expected. Rising at 6.25am for a shared personal training session with mum was a wake up in more ways than one. After ten odd days on the road quaffing drinks and scoffing bread, intense physical work threw me for a loop. Her trainer had set up five or six one minute activities that ticked over after three rounds. Bosu ball balance with kettlebells, battle rope, cones and tiny hurdles. It was rough, with the kind of heart stabbing heavy breathing reserved for hard earned fatigue. I only cried on the inside.

Having not hired a rental car for the tail end of the trip, it was pretty handy that Mum had a bunch of golf ahead of her. While she was at the course, we had the car. A beast of a thing, it had all these fancy computer systems that complicated an activity that otherwise felt natural to me. There was a form of cruise control that, rather than keeping at a constant speed, had a desired speed set. You could take your feet off the brakes and accelerator while it did the work. Keeping note of the location of cars around you, it’d automatically speed up or slow down. Watching mum do it, immediately my mind went to potential future nightmare scenarios. In a world of automated vehicles, could hackers gain access to complacent drivers’ cars and make them crash? Figures of interest or celebrities destroyed by their reliance on technology? I shied away from the robot car’s computerised functions after that. Being a European car, the indicators were on the wrong side and despite my best interests this made me flick on robo driving once or twice by accident. Damn you goddamn ghost in the machine!

There’s this thing that’s been happening over the past 24 hours. Since we got back from the South Island, everyone’s asking us what the highlight of the trip was, the part that stood out. It’s sort of stumped us. Both my girlfriend and I had a great time. The couple we traveled with were awesome. A close childhood friend and his boyfriend (who was all kinds of excellent). A ton of in-jokes and compatible personalities made it a pretty stress free experience. We were also almost permanently on the move. It was pretty intense. Waking, packing up, driving three or four hours, maybe seeing something on the way then camping in the afternoon/early evening before it got dark. The necessity of having the camping gear set up before nightfall and the smaller locations we camped in meant there weren’t a ton of big night time activities. The weather also did its best to shit on our fun, which literally and figuratively put a damper on things. It’s not like you can do something about that and it’s hard to find purchase in any solid complaints. As always, Mother Nature don’t give two shits about your plans. She’s got enough on her plate already.

Highlights have been hard to pick out mainly because I went into the trip with expectations of what would stick out. The wine tour was choice, the Milford Sound trip was also terrific, but the pains of the weather were certainly felt. We ate well throughout the trip, though potentially would’ve wanted to do more in Queenstown (weather and budget being the central bugbears). The company/banter was top notch through the entire trip. South Island bakeries were universally disappointing (though I hit two Auckland bakeries in the past few hours. They’ve been doing their best to mitigate the extreme bakery misery). If anything, it’s been hard to pin down specifics of the trip because it felt like one solid adventure. There wasn’t much time to switch off, making it tricky to parse out smaller chunks. Though the Cookie Time cookie tasting like something out of a cherished memory was all kinds of great.

In a few days I’m gonna have all three weeks of the holiday behind me and I’ll likely be asking myself the same questions. Maybe I’m in denial or buying hard into Crowded’s House’s advice, but I’m not ready to leave my past home for my present home. I can get up at 6am all I like, but reality is not a wake up call I’m ready to accept.

Our plane had dark wings. We had dark words.

Probably spoilers for Game of Thrones season six to follow. I haven’t decided yet.

Taking yesterday as a day of rest (rather than the traditional day of sex, being hump day and all), my girlfriend and I decided to unwind and watch a few Game of Thrones episodes. It’d been long enough since we’d last watched that we’d forgotten we were in season six, let alone which episode we were on. It was a fun world to dive back into and we quickly devoured three episodes before crashing out. We’re now five or so minutes away from having finished the fifth episode (laptop battery died on the plane flight at the climactic moment). While we were watching though, we’d both noticed a change in the air. I remembered that while the series diverged from the books a while back, this was the first season that didn’t have a corresponding book. The obvious outcome is that we were watching Game of Thrones that hadn’t been written (scenes or an overview at least) by George R.R. Martin. The difference was kind of noticeable. As always, one of my favourite things about watching a film or show with someone is unpacking and comparing thoughts and feelings. Sharing the experience has a somewhat vicarious feel to it, as it helps provide alternate views to your own which in turn expand your own perspective. Comparing season six to the previous ones, here were some things we noticed:

  • Gratuitous nudity down, gratuitous swearing up: “Tits and dragons” has scaled down both the tits and dragons. The language on the other hand is bluer than ever. I’m not complaining, it’s just different. Ser Davos, while a sailor at heart, never used to curse like one. Now it’s “fuck” and “cunt” as punctuation. I understand that Mr Seaworth has lost close friendships and family, but I’m not sure that it’d immediately change Mr Seaworth into Mr C-Word. He’s always been honest, humble and blunt, but rarely crude, as far as I remember. Unless my memory is the issue. It’s been a while since we last watched.
  • Characters becoming closer to caricatures: My girlfriend pointed out how many of the characters feel less dynamic than they did. As if they ran focus groups and discovered well this is what people liked about Daario, so let’s make him like that all the time. Characters being defined by specific features instead of being given depth. It’s kind of changed how the show feels. Less prestige, more pulpy. Ramsay Bolton, for instance, always had an exquisite sadism about him. He delighted in causing suffering. Now it feels like he’s cruel or violent for the sake of it. At the same time, there hasn’t been much telegraphing of him slowly unraveling, so it feels unearned. Tyrion’s trademark barbed wit needs sharpening and his ability to turn around a situation feels lacking. Self-interest was always one of his primary motivations (while essentially having a moral compass that’d get the better of him). His arc into selflessness feels too all-encompassing.
  • Fanservice at the behest of storytelling: My longstanding issue with Parks and Recreation (a show I really did adore) is that eventually it fell too deeply in love with its own characters. As a result, the show was loathe to let them really face strife and it became obvious that everything would work out okay. Game of Thrones is known for its abrupt twists and turns, throwing you off balance and not knowing what to expect. Now it feels like the fan favourite characters are gonna be alright no matter what happens. Of course Jon Snow is fine. Tyrion will be okay. Daenerys will come out on top time after time. Everything in its right place. Arya’s trials with blindness could’ve been far more of a depraved struggle, but instead were overcome with a tight little training montage (and this is coming from someone who loves training montages). The twists, when they do come, seem far more obvious than they did. Dialogue is predictable and runs on safe patterns. George R.R. Martin seemed to take pleasure in withholding what the audience wanted and the series felt stronger for it.

It’s not like the show is terrible now. Being basically the most popular show in the world, having so much time, money and talent pumped into it, obviously it’s great fun. Mid season six, however, doesn’t feel like its golden age. Valar morghulis, of course, but can’t it wait till the end?

Rebellying against the norm.

18 days into the holiday and it was finally time for a rest day. I know, asking for a quiet day was like asking for a cake on top of an already staked sundae. Thing is, the vacation thus far has been a combination of social time and frantic movement from one place to another. If we weren’t flying, we were driving or in transit towards a specific activity. Time out has been a rarity and reserving time and space for my girlfriend and I alone has been rarer still. We had a big lie in while the rest of our friends went off to explore or adventure. Plus the weather continued to be shithouse, there was little point paying $150 odd for an outdoor excursion in the mud. Eventually we meandered into town in search of coffee and lunch. When the most stressful moment of your day is deciding between a myriad of delicious meals, you’ve reached a relaxation benchmark. Usually I’m one to shun relaxation in favour of constant activity, but even I have a tipping point.

We tested culinary recommendations to great success. If you’re in Queenstown, New Zealand, Joe’s Garage made a pretty mean coffee. Moreover, there was a boisterous, fun, local atmosphere to the place that was utterly charming. Decked out with all manner of mechanic memorabilia, it was a low key, loud and happening environment. There were kids underfoot and the staff joked around with them and gave a little good natured ribbing. A local dog showed up, clearly known to the staff. People came in for takeaway coffee, or to dine in on a variety of well stacked hotdogs (topped with scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, bacon, etc). A rad spot that’s obviously become a mainstay for good reason.

The other tip we’d been given from multiple sources was Vudu Cafe & Larder. At 11.30am there was a line out the door that had dissipated slightly when we returned an hour later. A constant cycle of people coming and going. People would stand up only to have their seats taken 30 seconds later. Peering at the cabinets, it was obvious why. The food was gorgeous. A large variety of local baking; gluten free, vegan and far more meaty. There were huge sandwiches or monolithic stacks of cake. The coffee was excellent, some of the best I’ve tried since returning home (though Flight Coffee Hanger in Wellington may still be tops).

Spying a tasty looking bean salad, I flip flopped between a chicken burrito and chicken/ricotta/Parmesan/cream cheese sausage roll to go with it. I opted to finally tick sausage roll off my NZ food checklist and wasn’t disappointed. The roll was dense, and though it looked like it’d be dry, was anything but. Served with a rich tomato/raisin relish it was fucking dynamite. The salad had black beans, red and green capsicum, red onion, olives, corn and pineapple with an ultra light dressing. My girlfriend’s avocado smash came topped with perfectly poached eggs, halloumi, a large bulb of avocado mash and a kale pesto, garnished with sunflowers. It was a piece of art for the eyes and belly. What followed was a blissful reverie of food euphoria, floating around town like a soft white cloud (despite the rain pissing down everywhere).

Being away from the pressures and stress of everyday life for an extended period has done wonders for my mood. I feel more mentally flexible, unhindered by anxiety over time based deadlines and appointments. I feel present in the moment, because there’s been so little of import outside of that. I’ve stayed off social media since travelling and the change is profound. Being so much more cognisant of my own thoughts instead of getting trapped up in an endless wall of others’ feelings has felt pretty damn rewarding. I’d be so happy to drop Facebook entirely if it wasn’t the cornerstone of my entire social experience. Maybe returning to Toronto will bring with it a greater moderation of time spent online. If its absence has been this valuable, I’d be a fool to go back to mentally unhelpful patterns.

Then again, the best part of being on holiday is not having to think about anything else. Clearly that’s a decision for another time. For now, it’s beer o’clock. Deciding what to drink can be my stress for the day.