Have any puppet films won best picture?

I went to a kids’ play today. One of my pals wears many dramatic hats. One of them is as a playwright/puppet god. Let me clarify, he’s not a puppet, but he builds them from scratch. I don’t know if they worship him, but they probably should. He’s that proficient. The play was called Princess Knight. If you’re in Toronto, enjoy theatre, have kids and/or are somehow a ghoul in thrall to my every command, go see it. It was a truly superb experience. Now, it’s not my first experience with children’s theatre. I used to act in local community plays. In my 20s, friends and I would often laugh our way through kids’ shows, mocking how bad the kids acted. It was a time.

The difference today was I went with a friend and her son. I had an actual child with us and it kinda helped to see it through his eyes. Let’s be clear, I enjoyed the play regardless, but understanding his perspective a little better lifted the experience. It was neat to see what lit him up (fart jokes, obviously. Silly names), ’cause it was so removed from how I normally engage with shows (except for the potty humour. That’s not going away any time soon). It was cool seeing how shy he got when the actors offered a Q&A at the end, or showed the kids all the props. It reminded me of being that young, before I’d heard the word “cynical”. When the world was a sensory explosion at every step. When I could count on one hand the plays I’d watched, where the scale seemed so much greater. I felt the same way about community plays as I’d probably now feel about large scale concerts. They felt larger than life and I got transported with them. I wasn’t thinking about the layers or themes, I was just along for the ride. Stories at their purest form.

It’s been winter for what feels like a decade. In reality, January wasn’t that bad. I’ve been through a cluster of Toronto winters now and the novelty has pretty much fallen away. Still though, there was this nice moment today that stuck with me. It was a clear day and it’d warmed from around -11 to 3 above. The footpaths I walked across were near endless lines of locals getting out to shovel. Everyone was in pleasant spirits, taking advantage of the slushiness that simplified the job. People were chipper, smiling and chatting. A diverse range of people, all smiling and getting down to business. It was like a community. It made me feel like joining in the action. I looked at our footpath and I probably could’ve gotten away with doing nothing. Instead I fetched the shovel and left a respectable looking footpath for anyone passing by.

We watched I, Tonya tonight. Spoilers likely to follow.

The movie was medium at best. Maybe a B/10? It seemed like needless Oscar bait. Margot Robbie was pretty decent, Allison Janney was outstanding (not like that’s out of the norm). It had its moments. The first third was tight, then it seemed to hit a wall. The pacing slowed and it all felt tedious. It was flippant and trashy, which I’m not putting out as detractors. It was fun how they played with the fourth wall. It just sort of felt like it was flashy without being fleshed out. There wasn’t a ton of substance. They didn’t shy away from the systematic abuse she was put through (though at times it took on an almost alarmingly slapstick tone). My issue was more that with all the polish, dynamic shots and Rashomon narrative style, it still felt kind of stock and laid it on way too thick. C’mon, “Spirit in the Sky”? Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”? Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger”? Nothing stood out as exemplary enough for the film to be considered Best Picture material. Certainly entertaining, but nothing that’ll be remembered in two years. Remember when the category only had four films? Let’s bring that back.

Or like, nominate my friend’s play for one. I dunno.


Rice rice baby 12 rolls, 12 rolls.

A Sunday with almost zero plans. I was all set to be a good boy and get to a gym class, but I was thwarted by uncooperative buses. Bambuszled? The wheels on the bus went ’round and ’round too slowly for my tastes, so I changed it up for a run instead.

It’s great that Toronto seems to have noped out so far on snow, but winter running still ain’t the greatest. Inhaling too sharply sends daggers down your throat. It may just be the ravages of old ages, but joints tend to be less lubricated than usual. Your nose drips uncontrollably, then your snot gets cold against your upper lip (or in the case that you’re mustachioed, it nestles into the foliage and chills away). Knuckles may be the worst part. They get all dry, cracked and sore. Then you’ve gotta work at controlling your body temperature. Too many layers and you’ll drench your way through them all. Insufficient layers mean you won’t even sweat. Until you come back inside, that is, then your pores become waterfalls. I’m sure there are valid solutions to every one of these issues, but I have yet to find them.

I did say I had almost zero plans today. A friend of mine posted the other day looking for people to All You Can Eat Sushi with. Each sunset has brought me closer to that moment and since I’ve risen, I’ve thought of little else. All You Can Eat Sushi is both ascension to the divine and an abomination most foul. It’s the epitome of North American culture, to take a delicate flower and add flamethrowers. In my mind, sushi is an example of grace and craft. Everything is just so. I think of beautiful presentation, finely sliced sashimi, and a balance of flavours. All You Can Eat Sushi asks the question that if a small amount of something is pleasant, wouldn’t having all of it be an orgasm on a plate?

All You Can Eat Sushi charges extra for any unfinished food, which is entirely fair. The other side of this is that people drastically over-order, then struggle to wolf down everything in front of them. There’s no time limit, but you can be assured that most anyone going for All You Can Eat Sushi has mildly starved themselves to get the most “value” out of their meal (I mean, regardless of quantity wouldn’t “value” mean enjoying your food until you’d had enough?). As soon as it starts, people go ballistic and order five of everything. Then when it comes they start eating and order more so they’ll never have to take a break. Then the second lot comes and they realise they might be full. But it’s not like you can go out for All You Can Eat Sushi and not get dessert, right? Stuffed as they are, they shovel more until their stomach bulges like they’re smuggling several kilos of coke. Wait, why am I talking in the third person like this isn’t exactly what I do every time? Because of course it is. I can’t wait.

I’ll have to though, which is life’s most cruel betrayal.

If you love weddings so much, why don’t you marry them?

Ah Wedding Season. Flowers in bloom. Sunlight descending like a halo to crest atop the domes of young lovers. Warmth radiating outwards from the heart to find kinship in the air around. Oh wait, we’re in North America? November weddings be cold as shit.

Only physically, of course. I’m a sucker for weddings. Shall I count the ways?

  1. Celebrating anything is totally my jam.
  2. Giving an ode to future happiness, struggles and connection is also up my alley.
  3. Hearing people give heartfelt personal vows rocks my socks too.
  4. Any excuse to dress up fancy is one worth taking.
  5. Food is basically my favourite thing and I haven’t yet been to a wedding that didn’t impress me much in that regard.
  6. Open bars.
  7. Dancing after experiencing the open bars.
  8. The gooey/mushy declarations of adoration that come about after dancing after experiencing the open bars.
  9. The fact that practically everyone’s in a great mood, because who wouldn’t be happy about two people coming together?

Last night’s wedding didn’t disappoint. It was a couple who I’ve never known super well and always wanted to get to know better. Seeing the people they brought around them to celebrate, witnessing their vows, hearing how others talked of them together, I’ve only got more reason to want to get closer. My girlfriend and I had some other close friends going, plus it turned out there were a bunch more people from around the community we knew. We mostly hung around the friends we knew well, but getting to chat about Magic the Gathering at a wedding was icing on the cake. Speaking of which, there was no cake. There were however stacks and stacks of donuts. Salted caramel, sticky toffee, chocolate pudding, toasted butter (?), pumpkin pie. Aside from the chill in the air, it was the most Canadian thing ever.

While we’re on the topic of food, let’s stay there. After the ceremony (which was lovely. The bride walked the aisle to an instrumental version of “Where Is My Mind?” The vows and celebrant’s speech were liberally peppered with nerdy accoutrements), out came the charcuterie, vegetables and hummus. I stacked up a plate and walked away to eat, well satisfied. Then the hors d’oeuvres started coming out and continued for hours. Corn on a stick, delicious pork and pineapple skewers, chicken and mango skewers, balsamic marinated tomato and mozzarella skewers, tiny taco cones (tacones, obviously), risotto croquette things, stuffed mushrooms and battered sweet potato fries (in adorable little Chinese takeaway boxes). While we were at first at the back of the room, we realised that the dishes had spawning points and the people camped around them got all the good stuff. It became a matter of darting in and out to make sure you got the good stuff before it all went. Plates were sometimes being emptied in 30 seconds or less. I’ll put it lightly: I did not leave hungry.

I’ve been to three weddings this year and I couldn’t be happier about them. They’ve all been entirely different occasions, but no less fantastic. Having left New Zealand, I went years without any invites. All of my good friends were across the other side of the world. I hadn’t made enough close friends to be considered invite-able. Having been here a few years, it’s pretty gratifying to have developed the kind of friendships where I’m seen as a viable guest. It’s great to dress up and my girlfriend’s always a fun wedding partner.

Even when it’s zero degrees outside.

Sounds more Autummy-nal than anything else.

Oy vey, I’ve eaten well today. My girlfriend and I started the day with a solid sweet potato, onion, salami and garlic egg scramble. Yes, I realise that rather than a cohesive meal, that sounds more like multiple single items together. We paired them with my brunch nemesis: grilled to tomatoes. I swear I fuck them up every time. They’ll be burnt, but cold inside. Way more solid than desired. None of that hot warm goodness with slightly crispy exterior that makes them pop. Today I loaded them the fuck up with sea salt and pepper and hoped for the best. They delivered. I defeated my personal dragon and claimed its treasure.

I had one of the $3.50 large banh mi buns for lunch. Loaded up with cold cut meats, paté, salad and chillis. Then caught up with a friend over key lime pie and tea. Later my girlfriend and I are off for homemade pizza and beer with a couple we haven’t seen in ages. As you should be able to tell from the diet, fall is setting in. There’s a reason why this is my favourite time of the year. It’s comfort food day in and day out. Consequently, I feel comfortable.

With each year that passes, I get more and more settled into the vastly different sessions Canada has to offer. Back home in New Zealand the variance wasn’t that huge. Winter was colder, a bit more drizzly, but ultimately not considerably different from Autumn. Here you actually make use of a rotating wardrobe. Certain pieces only make sense for a couple of months each year. Layering comes in stages with incremental temperature shifts. Beer changes and you have seasonal brews. Some months you rarely go out. Life revolves around the weather and it’s logical, because you don’t have much of a choice otherwise.

I think after four years that I’ve reached the point of normalcy. I’m used to the flow of the year. It’s no longer jarring or unnatural working around my environment. Instead it’s become a matter of embracing each season as they come. Learning to love the intricacies and charms of temperature fluctuations and shifting winds.

Or in short, enjoying the food.

How bon will this voyage really be?

While I’m not overly superstitious, I’m continuing the vaunted Leon tradition of pre-trip insomnia turning into writing time. If I’ve got a good thing going, who am I to stand in the way of it? It’s currently 3am. I got in bed around 9pm with hopes to get around four hours sleep. With an alarm set for 4:30am, I figured this was an achievable objective. I figured wrong, so after four hours of rotating one way and another, I cut my losses and got up. I’d forgotten to download the new LCD Soundsystem album. Why even bother travelling without it?

I like a challenge, so why not take a day of international travel with zero sleep? It’s not like I was doing anything for my brain by staying restless in bed. I mean, I’ll no doubt be a shambling mess all day. Hell, I think I tried to write “if” with an apostrophe before (I’f). I’m all kinds of floppy. Oh, wait, let’s do a tally. I’m majorly sleep deprived, I’m doing my best to fight off a sore throat (sleep would’ve helped there) and the skies in Portland are raining ash as a smoky, unhealthy haze fills the air. If I ever was to be thrust into an 80s action movie style protagonist role, this would be it. I mean, as a kid my favourite Mortal Kombat character was Kabal, so I’m getting my chance to live out a childhood fantasy.

If it sounds like I’m a rambling lunatic right now, that’s a pretty accurate assessment. I’m sure clearing customs will be a walk in the park. Then I get to roam the price scalping food courts in search of USB outlets before getting bored and going to my gate. No doubt the flight will be delayed, my home made ham sandwich will be soggy and my in flight entertainment won’t work. So I’ll spend the flight inexplicably drawn to my neighbour’s screen (showing nothing but Big Bang Theory reruns). I won’t have to worry about missing my connecting flight, because all the smoke in Portland will make it impossible to land. So I’ll get to hang out in LAX for a week and get scurvy after eating nothing but single serving cheese slices from airport kiosks.

Grim and defeatist as all of the above sounds, I’m actually really excited about the trip. I swear that’s not merely delirium talking. I wouldn’t have this much trouble sleeping if it was merely anxiety. I’m not remotely nervous. I love flying and travel in general. I’m so stoked to get out and adventure through somewhere new. The smoke and ash is mildly disheartening, but by the sounds of it there’s gonna be light rain and shifting winds over the next day or two that’ll likely send it packing. I didn’t think I’d be this happy about rain on my holiday. Perhaps this is my chance to learn a greater lesson about appreciating the little things. Or catalyst for joining a nihilist rain cult. Even better, I could finally justify putting dollars down on those steampunk accessories I always dreamed of. THIS COULD BE ME (skull and all. What do you take me for? Some kind of fucking amateur?). Truly living my best life in Portland. Maybe I’ll put a bird on it.

Only an hour until my alarm goes off!

There’s no harm in tri-ing.

Done. Complete. Finito. Tough Mudder 2017 is now in past tense. Nearly three months of training funnelled towards a single event. 16 kilometres, over 20 obstacles (barring the one that caught fire. ironically it was the one involving a fire hose) and 10,000 people running up and down the slopes of St Louis Moonstone. It was an assault on the senses, the body and any modicum of cleanliness. How did 2017 rank up there?

Firstly, because this is Canada and we’re overly polite, the weather. In 2015, my first Mudder, it was bright and sunny the whole day. This was nice, as it meant the ground stayed relatively intact. With so many running the course, the difference between finding easy grip and not can be drastic. It also meant that getting overheated and burnt was a real issue. In 2016 it was overcast the whole day, aside from a small patch of rain. Ideal. By the time the rain rolled in, it was refreshing. The sun was still periodically out, but mostly it let us go about our business unimpeded by sunstroke. This year we had it all. It was beautifully sunny to start with, then overcast, then the heavens opened and we were soaked. Sustained rain and some heavy line ups at obstacles left us legit chattering teeth level freezing. Unable to run it off, we just had to suck it up as our muscles cooled down and stiffened. It was rough to say the least, throwing a heavy pall over morale. When things seemed their darkest, the sun came back out and dried us off. It couldn’t have come at a more crucial time, as tensions had risen and struggles were had.

Secondly, the team. We were a small team of three this year. Team Butts Tough, a name I made up several years ago after rambling about butts and stumbling onto a chant. I primarily liked the name because it’d sound to others like we were saying “butt stuff”. I’m mature that way. I had two team mates, neither of whom had been as obsessive as I had about training. Finishing time wasn’t important to any of us, we just wanted to get over that finish line having had a great time. One of our team mates had been having a bit of trouble with her training, as her asthma had been steadily rising over the past month. She’d been putting in work, but would often have to stop in the middle of runs because of it. She was worried that she’d slow us way down. I assured her we’d all get over the line together. Fortunately, her asthma didn’t prove to be an issue on the course. Unfortunately, she injured her hips early in the race and they steadily grew worse. By about midway it was quite severe and we basically had to walk the rest of the course. By the point where she was holding back vomit through pain, I advised her she’d probably be best to opt out and get a ride to home base (it’s one thing to be determined, it’s another to gain a permanent injury). She was determined to cross that line, so we stuck with her. All credit to her dedication, but it was pretty frustrating to take things so slowly. In my third year, I’ve yet to do the course at a decent pace. It wasn’t her fault by any means, but at the same time I did feel cheated on an experience I’d put so much work towards. It’s been the same deal each time so far. Next year I’m gonna have to set a baseline for team fitness. If I’m gonna train hard, I want to give it my all. It’s time I committed.

The obstacles were heaps of fun. The return of Block Ness Monster was a delight. A big pool of water with these long horizontal four sided rotating barriers. There was a technique and steady rhythm to it. I found I’d push up from the bottom while people had latched onto the top. I’d then grab onto the top while people pushed from the bottom. At the apex, I’d rotate 180 degrees and grab onto the top edge to pull it down and help the next row of people. Super fun and totally teamwork based. The Funky Munky was a blast. An upwards inclined monkey bar that transitioned into a bunch of spinning wheels, then onto a single horizontal bar. I absolutely zipped through, all those pull ups having done their work. Most of the upper body stuff was a cinch for me, thankfully. The Stage Five Clinger was pretty tough. There were a series of horizontal bars to move between, before pulling up and over onto a platform. The hard part was how close the bars were to the ceiling. You had only a few centimetres space to get in, which meant you were jamming your hands up and skinning knuckles. It was right after a big muddy obstacle, which meant the bars were unfairly slippery. I fell on my first attempt, then wiped my hands off and focused on the dry parts of each bar. It was hugely demanding, but I got to the end then pulled up no problem. Kong was the final obstacle. I saw basically everyone in front of me plummet and tightened my resolve. The rings looked really far apart, but I knew I had it in me. All I needed to do was get good momentum. I grabbed the first ring and swung to the second. Holding tight to both rings, I realised my body was taught, and that if I released my back hand it’d give me the momentum to swing to the next. So I did. With so few people making it, the last couple of rings were nice and dry, perfect for a solid grip. I moved quickly and swung my way to victory.

Finishing up, I felt like I could do another one a day later. Given how sore my calves are from those endless hills, I think I was optimistic. I thought after I finished I’d be relaxed, sated. Instead I’m fired up. I need another challenge. I wonder if I could do a triathlon…

I’ll let you in on a secret. You could still buy the coffees anyway. That’s capitalism!

I’ve been ranting a lot of doom and gloom lately, so my goal is to push further towards positivity today. Is that too much to ask? Very likely. Let’s engage with some sunnier things!

I guess you could blame an overweight childhood if you must, but I’ve had body issues for some time. Go figure. I’ve also been in heavy (misnomer) training for Tough Mudder lately, working really hard to tone up. It’s been repeatedly gruelling. In recent years I’ve had help, whether in a group fitness situation or personal training. This year I’ve run off nothing but my own grit. Knowing what I’m capable of and making a point of not cutting myself much slack. So yeah, it’s been challenging, but also rewarding to see results. At this stage it’s become an annual summer tradition, which sucks only because cutting alcohol is a shit and a half when the sun is shining out there. Toronto lives for its patios and they don’t quite have the same glory when your beer goggles are instead filled with vodka-less cranberry juice. In an attempt to get the kind of gratification that only external validation from an echo chamber can provide, this morning I posted a shirtless selfie on Facebook. The “likes” and positive comments have flooded in. It was a cheap ploy for a temporary boost to self-worth and it’s worked. I’m chalking that up as a victory.

I saw one of my musician friends, Nick Teehan, perform on Saturday night and it’s reminded me how much I love his music. He’s a tremendous live performer with an enthralling vitality on stage. Between his vibrant energy and witty quips, he puts together an engaging show that pulls you right in. Not only is he a fantastic performer, but he’s a truly gifted songwriter. His lyrics are evocative and rich, drawing on personal experience, local sights and touching storybook imagery. “Mom Song” is an ode to the intrinsic link drawn between mother and son, a relationship unbound by temporal circumstance. “Boxing Day” nods its head to the disconnect of growing out of youth and the trappings of small town life. If you like what you’ve heard, you can get his album There is Not a Snake on Bandcamp for a mere $7 CAD (or more if that’s what you want to pay). That’s like skipping one and a half coffees to support a talented local artist. You’re practically losing money by not doing it.

All my favourite good television (that isn’t already on air, that is) is coming back. All hail the Fall television slate! You’re the Worst, BoJack Horseman, Better Things, The Good Place, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and everyone’s favourite 2016 hit, Stranger Things (which sadly is in no way affiliated with Better Things. I’d love to see Pamela Adlon taking down a Demogorgon). Not only that, but along with Fall television, it’s gonna be Fall! Sweaters and light jackets, pretty coloured leaves, pumpkins to carve, Halloween, Thanksgiving feasts, seasonal beer (/the return of all my Belgian style favourites). A season full of unmitigated joy before the Winter depression kicks in.

See, I’m practically walking on sunshine.