That’s one hell of a blank canvas

I was at a party last night, chatting to some guy I’d met before. Lovely dude. He mentioned he’d recently come back from Antarctica. Antarctica is one of those beacon subjects for me at a party. I don’t know why. It’s not the first time I’ve talked to someone who travelled there for work, but it never ceases to be a fascinating topic. Maybe it was growing up in NZ, the proximity meant that we heard about Antarctica a bunch. I remember watching all these old school videos of large barges breaking up the ice. Or March of the Penguins style documentaries. I remember being so excited to visit the Antarctic Adventure at Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium when it opened. There was just something otherworldly about such an inhospitable location. It was exotic and outside of the realms of anything I ever imagined experiencing. So when I chatted to this dude I was understandably engaged.

As he talked, I was struck with how subdued life in Antarctica sounded. We’re so overstimulated in our daily lives. Between the infinite sprawl of the internet and the constant bombardment of advertising, Antarctica seemed stark, like the simplicity would bring things into focus. The guy talked about how mundane pleasures really meant something while he was there. The emotional warmth of a luxury item brought from home. Maybe some Baileys he’d stowed away added to a hot chocolate. Being able to send and receive scattered messages from his girlfriend back in Canada. Having to be driven around by someone else until he got his bearings, then having the freedom to explore. Someone else asked him how he passed the time, if he’d brought hard drives full of series’ to watch. He countered that while he’d assumed that’d be the way, he never found himself having the spare time. Antarctica was still so fresh and new. If he wasn’t working, he was sleeping or adventuring out just to see things. That without stimuli constantly vying for his attention, his mind seemed free to run wild. He was processing information in a whole new way. Friendships he built seemed built on a genuine desire to connect and see the best in one another. Supplies were rationed, which took his mind off a lot. He was able to exist in a way that wouldn’t be possible back in normal society. He could kind of just “be”, y’know? He couldn’t wait to go back.

Imagine finding your centre like that. Arriving somewhere that enabled you to find parts of yourself you didn’t know were important to you. I’ve gone on holidays before, obviously. I’ve had a great time exploring, living as the locals do. Losing myself in how it feels to travel, to feel uninhibited. At the same time, it’s always felt temporary and fleeting. I’ve never been somewhere that resonated with me in such a profound way. What does that feel like? I swear I’ve had those passing moments, but it’s never struck me to my core. At the same time, I’m sure there’s somewhere out there. There has to be. How do you find that? Do you just know once you’ve arrived? What if there’s a life out there that would complete me, but I’ll never know it?

Egads, I wasn’t looking for a personal crisis. I just wanted to know about penguins.

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And I’ve got the bones to prove it!

Hi friends. Toronto’s in the middle of a snowy shitstorm. I haven’t left the house in two days. I can remote into work, and the good coffee is better at home, so it’s all been for the best. I figure I should get some air, so I’m going out to the gym and I’ll grab Korean after Why don’t you come with me?

I still haven’t shovelled and I still kinda feel stink about it. The snow hasn’t ceased and my neighbour broke the back door off its bottom hinges. That’s two doors slain by this ceaseless sleet. Bummer. I noticed that the postal worker stepped through the shovelled path, only to deliver junk mail. Poor postie, wasn’t worth their effort.

I’m on the bus and three separate passengers are eating chips. Every once in a while their chip rotations sync up and they cronch in unison. It’s kinda creepy. One of them has a sneaky ziplock in her purse like it’s contraband, and her eyes are darting around with suspicion. Maybe she has a shit flavour and she’s trying to hide it. Wise.

On the subway and I’m listening to the sniffs sync up. I just did with the guy next to me. It’s rush hour, but going against the traffic. Everyone’s tired of course, but it’s different. There are seats. People seem happier, even the standing ones. There’s no desperation. I even feel refreshed. I guess it’s nice to go against the tide sometimes.

No sooner had I said that, of course, than I hit the transfer station and the train got instantly flooded. Oh yeah, and the next stop was mine. Not ideal, Neil. When we hit the station, I resignedly announced that I had to get off and, well, the waves parted. “No problem man” said a cheerful onlooker. UNDERSTANDING AND EMPATHY? ON MY TTC? What weird world was this? Going against the tide was like entering The Upside Down. Anyway, gym time.

Aaaaand done. Off to grab some veggies on my way to dinner. With all this snowfall, I’ve been reticent to leave the house. Wait, was that meant to be a euphemism for lazy? I haven’t seen daylight. My supplies of greenery have dwindled. A few more days and they’ll find me lying dead, clutching my bloated stomach stuffed full of meat and bagels. Honestly, doesn’t sound like a bad way to go…

… And wasn’t that just a comedy of errors? Like a goddamn pratfalling clown, I was a whirling dervish of clumsy. Limbs akimbo, constantly in everyone’s way. I went off to the local apple section, and in doing so, my massive bag closed in a couple looking for Ontario produce. Sometime else had to get past, so I pivoted in the hopes she could slide past. She did, but once I turned back she had to get out again. I’d become a turnstile. Then sheet taking a futile age to try cram a too-large cabbage in a bag, I found myself blocking someone from passing. With a sigh, I left the store to get a basket and allay the madness. I re-entered and noticed my shoelace was untied. I knelt down in an opening to fix it, and my new basket blocked no fewer than three people. THIS WAS WHY I HADN’T LEFT THE HOUSE. GAWRSH.

But I made it. I just ordered pork bone stew. We did it, team. Adversity overcome. Wasn’t that fun?

I never meant to start a war. Unfortunately, I probably will finish it

Infinity War Part 2 is potentially going to be three hours.

I once got stopped coming back from New York. We’d arrived at the Toronto airport, but I’d stupidly travelled on my NZ passport and forgot to bring my citizenship certificate. When the security dude questioned me I was like “oh shit, that was dumb. Here’s my Ontario photo ID with address, and library card and whatnot.” He put a big “X” on my entry form and pointed me towards another room. My girlfriend, travelling on her Canadian passport, was waved straight through. It sucked. The line was long and slow moving. I chatted to the dude next to me. He’d been brought through from Utah on a football scholarship. Because he was immigrating, he’d had to take this extra customs step. He was nervous about being in a new country, but excited. By this point I’d been living here for maybe two and a half years, so I gave him some info on how to get around, what to see, etc. The line dragged on, and we were right at the end of it. After what felt like an eternity, I got to the front of the line and explained my plight to the customs officer. “Oh, you had ID and everything and he didn’t let you through? What a dick. Look, I’ll put this note in the back of your passport, and if anyone ever gives you grief about when you re-enter Canada, show them this and you’ll be fine.” It was nice to be treated like a person, but it sucked to have that whole endeavour to go through, even with a friendly footballer dude to talk through. That line took an hour.

Infinity War Part 2 is potentially going to be three hours.

I once watched a film called Golmaal: Fun Unlimited. It was a Bollywood farce that my friend got basically press-ganged into by an enthusiastic child selling VCDs on the streets. This child claimed that it was a “laugh riot”, and my friend would be sad for life if he didn’t buy it. My friend, of course, purchased the DVD and we watched together. It was kind of like Weekend At Bernie’s, with a group of college students pretending to be a blind couple’s dead son. There was a lot more to the film. An excessive amount of subplots and contrived romantic relationships. We mostly didn’t get it. Or maybe we did, and just didn’t like it. The film started with this large scale, colourful and evocative dance scene with a catchy song. It went downhill almost immediately. The film did not get better, but it felt like we were trapped there watching it until it ended. Maybe we were just culturally ignorant, or jaded by Western film experiences. Maybe it really was a laugh riot and we were too blinded by our own judgement to notice. It took forever and a day to finish, and there was little in a satisfying conclusion. It was a mere 150 minutes.

Infinity War Part 2 is potentially going to be three hours.

There’s this film Toni Erdmann that I’ve been wanting to watch for some time. It came out back in 2016 to rave reviews. It was nominated for the Foreign Language Oscar, Palme d’Or, etc etc. Critics lost their shit. My girlfriend didn’t share quite my level of enthusiasm, but was willing to go on that journey with me. We tried to watch it time and time again, but always seemed to run out of time. We’d be like “okay, what can we watch tonight? How about Toni Erdmann? Oh, but it’s like 9:30pm already. It’s too late. Damn.” This pattern repeated for a while. I have to stress, these weren’t remote incidents. We even planned to watch it on the flight back to New Zealand, but somehow didn’t get there. It was just such a massive chunk of time to devote to a German farce, we couldn’t work ourselves up to it. Eventually we started watching, but the film got too long, I don’t know if my girlfriend was truly into it, so we paused it. We haven’t gone back. Now that she’s absent for a couple of months, I may just power ahead and watch it on my own. If it was that hard to get the two of us ready and primed for it, maybe it’s ’cause she straight up didn’t want to watch, but felt rude speaking her mind. Who knows? Toni Erdmann is 162 minutes. That’s 2.7 hours.

Infinity War Part 2 is potentially going to be three hours.

You know, I don’t actually have to watch this film. I will though, and I hate myself for it.

Is the gras always greener?

This is not my first time in Montreal. Far from it. This might even be the fourth in the past two years. Each time, I’ve had this one bucket list restaurant: Le Passé Composé, a lavish French brunch spot. There’s even been a bucket list dish: Foie gras eggs Benedict. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve had my heart set on a Sunday brunch there. Each time it hasn’t worked out. I woke this morning with a dream in my heart and the will to make it happen, no matter the cost.

After a late, late evening partying in our post New Year’s celebration, I awoke around 10.30pm. I knew what I wanted and I was ready to hit the pavement, accompanied or alone. It did not matter, as long as the day ended with foie gras benny in my belly. But my companions were into it. I had an adventuring party at my back. We resolved to get dressed and get out into the world. It. Took. Some. Time. People had to get ready, movement was slow. By the time we left, it was already almost 1pm. Oh also there was a goddamn blizzard outside. The sidewalks were piled high with snow. In Montreal, everyone seems to have a dainty little staircase and safe passage is hardly something they offer. This snow was so intense that sidewalk benches were totally covered. Our friends spent half an hour digging out their car. It was unreal. But I wanted my benny and I was not willing to back down. We called an Uber, and it was a slow, steady journey. When there’s that much snow, you can’t speed. It’s razor’s edge sorta stuff. The trip was taking a long time, which I chalked down to the snow. We arrived, got out and looked around as our driver disappeared off into the distance. We weren’t at Le Passé Composé, we were at a passport office. My friend had accidentally keyed in the wrong address.

It was almost 1.30pm, orders ceased at 2.30pm. The line was typically right out the door and down the street. Would there be a line in a blizzard? Could we make it in time? I felt my dreams slipping through my fingers like sand. BUT NO. I made my mind a fist and grasped my resolve. We could and would make it. This would happen. I was gonna have that foie gras, brah. My friend ordered another Uber and it arrived tout de suite. The driver was friendly. He spoke eight languages, but I’m not sure he ever learned how to give a straight answer in English. I asked how long he’d lived in Montreal. “Guess” he said. So we took guesses. Ten years, 11, 25. “Take 25 and add ten” he replied. He looked kind of chuffed, we all looked sorta bemused. Why was he making this into a game? Did he feel like he was dropping a bombshell on us? People live in places, it’s not exactly remarkable.

He asked where we were from, and when we mentioned Toronto he asked which part. We replied, and he didn’t super acknowledge our answers. “So, do you know what the most liveable city in the world is?” We all looked at each other. This was not emotionally getting me closer to foie gras benny. We chimed in. Melbourne? Amsterdam? Copenhagen? He shook his head. “I’ll give you a clue: Walking.” None of us could muster up an answer. “You’re breaking my heart.” He pleaded. We threw out a few cursory guesses, but it was quite clear to is that he was the only one who remotely cared about this. We were basically like “dude, we give up.” He nodded sagely. “Oakville.” He did not elaborate. He didn’t say why it was so great, he didn’t reveal his sources. He just dropped it. We responded with as much enthusiasm as it deserved. Then we got stuck going uphill. We were very close to our destination and we said we could just walk. The benny was so close. “Could you please give me a push?” He asked. As an excuse to leave the car, we took it and pushed.

We were in sight of the place. No line. This was incredible. Usually it stretches down the street. We opened the door and walked into a sardine can situation. It was rammed. We managed to squeeze in. Everyone banded together to pull us in from the cold. We were all here for the same reason. It felt weirdly like we’d all gone through Hell. We wondered how long the wait would be. Would we all get in? Time was ticking away, where was the cut off? The weird part was that there really weren’t stakes, but it felt like there were. I had a sudden thought. After all this lead up, what if it turned out I didn’t even like fois gras? If I ordered it, looked at the immaculate presentation and delicacy of this delicacy, then took one bite and was like NOPE. What then? I chatted with people in line and made a couple of new friends while we waited. More people entered and we ushered them in from the cold. The line got shorter and shorter. We were told that we would be served. We were given menus to peruse and every dish sounded like a dream incarnate. Then suddenly, we were ushered to a table…

I wonder when I’ll next be in Montreal.

All for mon, Montreal

Writing this from our Air BnB. It’s cosy, warm and tastefully decorated, reminding us all of the vast rent disparity between Montreal and Toronto. My room has bunks, a mural of children playing in winter, and a painting of the universe on the ceiling. It’s either a kid’s room, or a very creepy fuck den.

You know what? It felt weird to fly with weed. No matter how legal it is, I’m still left feeling like I’ve done something wrong. I went through customs with my pipe and weed just sitting in my bag’s front pocket. They scanned, there’s no doubt they saw it. At the time I was like “it’s fine. I think. No, it definitely is. Weed’s legal now right? Right? Yes.” Turns out yes, it is. There was no problem. There was so little in the way of problems that, as soon as I got off my bus at Lionel Groulx, I took out my pipe and had a quick puff. It wasn’t weird, I didn’t get odd looks. I just did my thing. Then riding the metro was that much more fun. I got to the Air BnB and clunkily tumbled through a discussion with the host, who spoke very little English. My very little French was a good enough match that we managed to find the words together for an extended conversation. She primarily used this extended conversation to shit on Torontonians in an extended capacity, so I’ve already had the traditional Montreal experience.

I also had the distinct pleasure of arriving hours earlier than any of my friends. That’s not even a dig. It was awesome to have time to myself, to sniff out whatever it was I wanted to do solo. Which, as it happens, was walk around for hours in the snow, eating and drinking as I roamed. I had lasagne at a bakery, got a cookie from a patisserie, then found a brew pub and chilled right out. With a few heady ales, I remembered just how much of a lifeline Wifi is on holiday. I’m not gonna lie, I legit just kind of got drunk by myself in front of the internet. Just. Like. Home. I even watched my favourite Magic streamers. What else are holidays for?

Eventually my friends arrived and the drinks kept flowing. We got wine drunk, then spirits drunk, then cheese drunk. I finally tried my Amaretto and coke combo, which, as advertised, really did taste like Dr. Pepper. I tried Grand Marnier and coke because, well, coke was basically the only mixer we had. My cocktail savvy friend chimed in with a couple of drops of fig bitters to round out the flavour, and it turns out she knows her stuff. Then we got into a round or two of Rum Can, which is its own specific thing. In short, we sat around chatting and drinking for many many hours.

The rest of the night was standard group shenanigans. One of our friends did her daily physio exercises, with another friend supplying sips of wine through a straw at regular intervals. We met our friend’s childhood soft toy, which was a nightmare incarnate. A dilpidated blue rabbit with a dead stare and faded fur. It hung from a string with all the physics of a limp corpse. We ate 11pm spaghetti, which should be a feature of any good party. We danced to Paul Simon with the volume cranked to 11. It was such a great night, and we’ve STILL got another two nights to go.

And I get to spend those nights sleeping in a maybe very creepy fuck den.

Building: A case against

One of the best developments over the recent month was talking with my manager about working from home.

It’s hard to articulate how helpful it’s been, but I have to do at least half an hour of writing per day, so I might as well try. First off, the commute. It’s 5:17pm and I’m home. I left the house once today, and that was to renew my library card. That’s not even to mention the difference it makes to my entire day. I don’t have the worst commute in the world, but it’s still a shitshow. To get to work I take a bus south to the station. I don’t often have to wait for multiple buses, but often the bus I get on is crammed. Then at the station I transfer to the eastbound subway. This is usually much worse. Either the platform is rammed and I have to wait for a bunch of trains to go past, or I get in first time and it’s so packed I’m sniffing armpits or my back is bent around other people’s bags. Sometimes when the stars align I get a seat, which is swell. I get off after seven stops and wait for a bus south. This usually takes between 3-20 minutes. In the winter it’s even worse. These buses are sparse or three arrive at once. The wait is normally around the corner and there’s no shelter. Once again, sometimes I’ll luck out and get a seat. Otherwise it’s as crammed as the rest of the trips. By the time I get to work (about 50 minutes door to door barring a long wait for the final bus) I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. So that’s how I’m starting my day.

Sometimes I plan to work from home in advance. In that case, I’ll set an alarm for 8.40am (an hour’s sleep in) and casually roll out of bed. I can take my time getting ready, since the “office” is in our spare room. In other cases, I might wake up, look outside and decide that a) it’s gross enough outdoors, b) my workload is light enough to deal with the latency issues of working from home or c) (like this morning) both. If that’s the case I won’t bother going back to sleep. Instead I’ll get up and start my workday just after 8am. It’s so much easier to get stuff done without the distractions of the office. Nobody is talking to me or trying to get my attention. I can knuckle down to work and Get Shit Done. If it’s a light load I can take my time and clear out the majority of the heavy lifting before lunch. I’ll stay at home all day within reach of email, but if I’m done and nothing’s coming through, I can chill out watching Netflix or playing Magic. Maybe I’ll even invite another working from home friend over for a meal.

It’s unfathomable to gauge the extent to which this breaks up the week. By virtue of even one day working from home, the rest of the week feels lighter. I feel like I’ve had a break and come back to the office rejuvenated. Here’s the thing: Deep down, simply being in the office stresses me the fuck out. There’s a lot going on. It’s a massive building, there are shit ton of people to move/work around. They’ve recently moved a new team in around ours and, oddly enough, it’s messed with bathroom availability. I’m not gonna sugarcoat things, I drink a lot of coffee and eat a ton of fibre. Since they brought the new department in, it’s nigh impossible to find a free stall in the men’s bathroom before midday on our floor. I’ll go to the closest bathroom, both stalls taken. I’ll walk to the other side of the floor, both stalls taken. I’ll come back to the first bathroom, still both stalls taken. Yesterday it took 5 bathrooms spread between three floors before I could finally take a dump. I don’t mean to make a mountain out of a molehill, but I’m not taking molehills here. I leave mountains. This is a serious point of contention.

Also, failing anything else, the office fucking sucks. It’s in a shitty part of town with nothing around. It’s out of the way. The lunch options are sparse and overly expensive. The closest decent cafe is at least 15 minutes’ walk. The building itself looks nice, but that’s about it. Moreover, the job itself is the primary stress. The fact that I’m still in this job after all this time really does bum me out. Every time I walk into that office and sit down to do my job, I’m reminded of the many, many, many failures I’ve had over the years in trying to move on to other work. I feel miserable being there at all, which doesn’t dissipate. Those feelings stay with me all day, and that’s a shitty way to feel for the majority of your daylight hours. If I’m home, it’s easy to forget all the stresses of the workplace. I can relax and, while I’m not feeling fulfilled, at least it takes the injury out of the insult.

Does that make sense?

I’m not some garden variety phallustine

To my chagrin I’ve learned that I’ve gained more family followers over the past few days. Come for the heartfelt Montreal sentiments. Stay for the puns and poop jokes. If anything over the past few weeks, I’ve learned they’re ingrained family traits. Here be dragons, you’ve been warned.

Between the solo/partnered time I’ve had here, it’s also held a higher concentration of familial familiarity. Familialrity? I’ve been noticing/recalling patterns, reinterpreting my past and recalibrating for my future. If we’re talking family traits, food is a big part of it all. My family, extended and all, loves food. Food is love. We cook, share and enjoy. We talk about meals we’ve had, where to check out and, for better or worse, what it does to our waistlines. Our family is obsessed with weight, image and all that jazz. We’re constantly encouraged to eat more and more, but there’s a pervasive fear of gaining weight. An “undue” amount, y’know? We talk about how “good” people are looking, how “bad” we are for eating certain things. Applying a moral compass to inanimate objects like dessert, etc. I swear it’s borderline highschool shit.

Having thought about this stuff on end for years, I know know that at least I come by it honestly. I don’t regret any of my proclivities for bold flavours or experimental cuisine. If you’re thinking about the calories over the taste, I figure you’re doing it wrong. Moderation is a personal endeavour, but there’s no weight as severe as the guilt above your head of taking it too far. With lifelong struggles over weight and body image I know full well that society hates the overweight. HATES us. Despite any well-meaning comments and euphemisms, it’s judgement all the way down. It’s bullshit, and so often the judgement comes from a totally clueless place where you don’t understand the struggles of others. Despite what you think, someone else’s weight is none of your fucking business. You have no concept of what’s going on in their lives or what their relationship with food is. Whatever that relationship is, it’s theirs, not yours. If you’re unsure of your relationship with food, as ghastly as it sounds, please be prepared to exercise self-compassion. Cool it with blaming yourself, deciding what you can and can’t wear or do. Your value has nothing to do with whatever a scale might say. Throw it the fuck out and decide what healthy means for you. There are far more important things.

Au contraire, I have reasserted the kind of love that flows freely throughout my lineage. Despite any of the above, people care and are present. So many interactions have cast my mind back to how we were raised. The boundaries instilled in us from a young age. How we were encouraged to take care of the dishes post meal or try as best as possible to be hospitable to others within their own homes. To be kind and considerate, to listen and actually hear what people were saying. To practice compassion and adoration to our partners. To give love in abundance and reaffirm how lucky we are to have them in our lives. I don’t think I’ve had a relationship that’s lasted five years. I can’t imagine how it feels when you’re homing in on 40 years together. How slight annoyances must become points of contention. Irritation morphing into outright contempt. I’m sure it’s so easy. What’s harder then, is embracing the faults of your beloveds. To be slow to anger and quick to understanding. Letting the heat of the moment take you will leave you stranded in a constant state of frustration. If you’re together until one of you dies, you don’t want to spend another 15-20 years stewing in resentment. It’s a rapid route to a living grave.

It’s something my own partner has taught me unbelivably well. That blame is in abundance and leads you nowhere. Flights of unnecessary fury only build walls higher and displace compassion. Being emotionally earnest is a reward in itself, knowing that openness pays back dividends. Having someone you feel free to be yourself with, to embrace one another with fullness, doubles the warmth of that embrace. Owning one’s feelings, faults and failings is unimaginably freeing, and it’s hard not to bring that authenticity back to the relationship. Fuck posturing, be yourself and love who you’re with. If you’re not, why be with them? Set them free and find your bliss.

Who’d’ve thought that “don’t be a dick” would take 700 words to say?