First time here? See the original post for the run down.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

day 66: cheating, anger and justin bieber

I used to think I had to rage against those who directly opposed my value system to maintain that system. As though that was my way of proving I wasn't like those people. It's been on my mind a lot lately and I've come to realize that there are some definite issues with the way I've approached this. The first problem is that it takes a tremendous amount of energy from myself and little to none from those I oppose. 

   As an example, take someone who cheats. I don't mean necessarily, "has cheated". I'm not here to judge the complications that arise in relationships. While I still hold to my belief that it's wrong, I've lost my certainty that I can so easily judge the validity of a relationship from the outside. It may not make it "right" for me but it does mean that there may come a time in my life where I understand how a good person could be driven to certain extremes and then take that last step against their better judgment. Humans in all their complexity were never meant to be perfect and I'm allowing that even of myself lately. 

   In this case though, I mean a person who cheats unabashedly and frequently; where the real issue isn't a latent need being unfulfilled in the relationship but a person who doesn't see (or chooses not to see) how their actions can truly harm the people in their wake. These are some of the people I've poured so much energy into hating. They aren't who I am. They aren't what I choose to be and it's my responsibility to hate and revile them, to not be duplicitous, to be unwavering in making my feelings known. Using this example I can certainly say I've given out way more energy than I had ever realized to uphold that standard. My ire means little to them, and that's if they notice it at all. So why am I spending that energy so freely? 

   In a way I believe it's to prove to myself (and to others) that I'm in no way like them, taking the polarizing stance to put myself in clear opposition. As though I'm afraid of what it would mean to be anything like them*. But I don't need that. My life IS an opposition to them. The way I choose to lead it, the way I treat people and the care I take in relationships. That is my way of "lashing out" against these people. Directing my anger towards them might feel somewhat gratifying but in a way it also hands them a victory. My energy spent at no cost to them. And it's not necessary.

   The second reason this has become important to me is because in my life I've not just seen the wake of people like this, but been a part of it. I've been part of the hurt that gets left behind and I've been part of the clean-up that ensues and it's mostly just a blur of pain with little relief. If I meet someone who foots the bill I get a chance to pour all of that hurt, that injustice never reconciled into a rage directed at them. The problem is, it's misplaced. That deep felt anger is something I need to deal with, not direct at anyone who's ever hurt someone (including myself, and that's a post for another day). Even if I feel the person deserves it, it still doesn't belong to them. It belongs to me and it's for me to deal with. The anger, not the blame. The blame belongs to those people from my past I will never get to face. Such is life.

   The last reason is, it's morally "right" to me. To be in this opposition is something I "believe" in. To harbour this anger and place myself on the other side of the table is what I've always felt was my responsibility. But you can't live a life in conflict, and the truth is, if you choose to actively oppose everything that's wrong in this world you will spend a lifetime in battle. There's just too much to do, too much wrong to right. The first step for a universal betterment isn't then to engage wherever you see injustice, it's to choose where you spend your energy wisely and more importantly, to engage yourself to be the change you want to see (as Ghandi so aptly put it). Not that the former isn't noble and necessary, but if you make it your life's work it will consume you. I've known those who live their lives in service to the cause and it really does offer profound meaning, but it can also limit being a whole person in many ways (a discussion for another day). All I mean to say is, I've decided my conflict doesn't reside in every man who has wronged a woman (although if you mess with my friends…), or every politician who has lied, every person who has held a weapon with the intent to hurt. There's a different and more personal conflict I need to resolve first and it's within. It's the conflict you've caught glimpses of over the last 60 days.

   I'm starting to understand that I can even carry this over to small things. How many people do you know adamantly and publicly dislike Justin Bieber? As a musician I can say, A LOT. But to what end? To prove to everyone you have good taste in music? To show that you're in conflict against the over-produced product placement that has become the Pop Music industry? How about this. Why not ignore him? Why not write your own music, focus on your own craft, and lace everything you do with as much integrity as you can muster? I can personally say as an artist that having people simply not care that I exist is much harder to reconcile than having people vehemently opposed to what I do. To know that I could evoke ANY kind of emotion is a win for me, so why are we giving Justin Bieber a win?? More importantly, why are we angry at a kid for having success of any kind? We don't have to like his music. We don't even have to acknowledge it if it doesn't suit us.**

   As far as I'm concerned, good for him. Will I see his movie? No. Will I buy his music? Probably not (although he works with some top-knotch writers so if I can swallow my pride I'm sure I could find something I like about it). But I don't think I need to express to people how much I dislike him to validate my musical tastes. People will know what I value in music when they hear the music I write, or when we talk about artists we love or hum a tune that's stuck in our heads. That's good enough for me. For now.

   I'm still to understand this concept fully, but I think I'm getting there. Choose my battles and start with the man in the mirror (R.I.P. MJ, we miss your music and your voice). This also raises questions in me about how opposing something brings people together and when it's a positive mobilizing influence, but this is just the start. For now I'd rather focus on taking out the unnecessary negativity. I can't think of a post that's fit more in the theme in recent weeks. Looks like I'm still exploring. Day 66? Sure. Day 66, in the bag.

*Or more to the point, afraid of the fact that we all have a bit of that in us; the capacity to do harm, to be selfish, and that it is alive in us regardless of our "moral" choices.
**Clearly this whole paragraph I'm speaking to myself.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

day ??: where love is, where solace is, and where the wild things are

There's a tiny voice inside me that tries to curb excitement. It's the voice that has logged and catalogued every moment the rug was ever pulled out from under me. Every time my trust was betrayed by those I thought I could offer a piece of myself. Sometimes I worry the world was truly built without rules and without a ruler. That there is no law, no great protector and no opportunity to really rage outside the lines because no one has the ability to hold that. To hold everything you might contain. These needs are all basically one and the same. To be safe to be. Ironically, observing this need I think we all share for a guardian I've only grown further from the concept of a "father" in the sky. The likely-hood it was created out of need and loneliness is so evident in it's trappings, in it's wish fulfillment and it's need for unquestioning obeisance, I just can't see myself ever reattaching myself to it.

   I suppose I was reminded with clarity of this collective fear while watching "Where the Wild Things Are" a few days ago (interpreted by Spike Jonze). It was a beautifully built analogy wrapped in the familiar tone of a childhood favourite. It had all the melancholic detachment of the picture book but took the metaphor well beyond what could be done in 30 pages, staging each "wild thing" as an aspect of Max, the young protagonist's psyche. Each moment in the movie after he disembarks into his fairy tale shows Max confronting and coming to understand different aspects of himself that were setup during the beginning scenes with his sister and more importantly, his mother. Each scene a window into his own unrealized desires and fears, uncovering a lot of anger, both from a lack of control and a shattered faith in those in control. I could honestly go on about this movie for some time as so many of the scene's were so memorable. The point I'm trying to make is that this fear - that another person couldn't possibly contain and hold all of the things you are, that there is no authoritative figure in whom to place all your trust (or no "King" as they referred to it in the movie) - has had cause to rear it's head in the last few weeks. And by 'cause' I mean, it's had a chance to reinforce itself as a universal truth in the back of my mind. We are well and truly devoid of anyone or anything that has all the answers or whose responsibility it is to protect us. To make it safe to be. Yet I'm sitting here tonight with a grin on my face.

   I'm not entirely sure why I'm grinning. Maybe because today I spent time with some superbly wonderful friends. Maybe because today, someone said they understood. Not that they could change it, but that they understood. Maybe because today I sat down with a student of 6 and got excited about a song he was writing that was just him hitting the strings randomly and looking at me like he intended every note. And because I got to tell him, in all honesty, that it was the best song I had heard in quite some time.

   We're all children in the face of what life offers us. We all want to be told it will be okay and that someone has a plan. But that can't be our solace anymore. Our solace is our experiences and our relationships, our talent and our resourcefulness. Our courage. I've always loved the shows I've seen where the characters on stage are clearly off script. There's that brief moment of panic as they all wait for someone to fix it and when no one immediately steps forward you start to see what people are really made of. Everything is teetering and suddenly the audience feels completely connected to those people. In the right moment that energy can build and build into something completely amazing and unexpected that everyone gets to celebrate at the finish line. Life has been like that for me. I feel like someone burnt my script two months ago and since then I've just been pulling out every stop I have. Yet in a way the people who mean most to me have been next to me with every step, not waiting to see me fall but trying to ride the rails with me. So I'm fatherless in every sense of the word, nothing will change that. I'm still not alone. There are others here doing it with me and that's as it should be. If my next big investment of excitement fails there'll be someone there to say they understand, like I was there for them. It won't fix it, but it will keep me moving forward and that's enough. That and love. So much love. It doesn't work without that.

Day whatever, in the bag.

Friday, March 11, 2011

day 61-64: supplemental, more to come...

This week has been a bit insane. Thursday was the only day (other than today) I managed to work in any kind of social time and that day consisted of a chiro appointment, getting passport photos done, picking up eye-glasses, doing a medical exam and immunizations (that took 4 hours, 4 needles and had me running between buildings along St. Clair Ave), then grabbing groceries, all in different parts of the city, all in time for dinner. The next week promises to lumber on in a similar manner and it may spell more drought for the blog. My apologies for those reading. There's even lot's to talk about, I just can't find the hours in the day to do it. Rest assured that once on the sea I will have not much else to do but contemplate, evaluate and share (I'll even have a reason to post photos and such!).

   Until then, and the few moments I will try and squeeze in over the next couple of weeks (including explanations to some of the more cryptic material from the last few weeks), day 61-64, sort of in the bag (but not really).

Monday, March 7, 2011

day 60: good night moon

Today challenged me with the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I have no words for it right now. I don't want to put words to it right now. Good night friends.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

day 59: the system, fighting the fight and finding resolve in injustice

Yesterday was definitely a day for admitting a bit of defeat. I got to learn how broken 'the system' really was and spent a day licking my wounds so to speak. Upon reflection I realized the only time the system had ever actually worked in my favour was when I was able to exploit it. For instance, even though I've always felt the traffic tickets I got were under unfair circumstances, they were rarely unjust. If they clocked me doing a certain speed or caught me turning against a traffic sign, it doesn't matter how silly it may have seemed, I broke the law. Regardless, I'll fight the ticket and in many cases gain substantial pardons for often obvious flouting of the law (driving with a suspended/expired license, JUST as an example). There's the system for you. The only time it has worked for me is when I was abusing it to avoid discipline.

   But so many times it's been the inverse. I try to seek justice in a situation that seems to have an ethical and moral precedent and find that the system has been built to protect and facilitate abuse by those with power and control. The system was meant to protect the little people, the ones without power. Regrettably, it just doesn't seem to work that way.

   In 2006 when Humber College had a 3 week strike right before the end of the year I learned that the college was positioning itself to save money because in strike time they don't pay anyone. In a way a strike was as desirable for them as a settlement because they could save hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars depending on how long the strike went. Instead of recouping the time when our 3 weeks of striking were over they instead crammed our last 5 weeks of school into 2, effectually ruining our chance of getting anything valuable from the end of the semester. We had paid for 13 weeks of school though and I was furious. I started a campaign to recoup the cost to students who had paid their tuition in full. I had a lot of the student body and teaching staff behind me. The campaign took as long as getting a lawyer coming in to say there was nothing I could do. A class action suit would cost more than I could ever hope to win back and there was little to no chance I could ever win the case because of what the law allows in terms of an institution during a strike. I argued that a factory on strike doesn't gain anything because production stops and interrupts their cash flow while workers are off the line, but an educational institution is paid in full up front for services to be rendered and they don't lose any money by not rendering those services (in fact, they gain a substabtial amount of money). It didn't matter. I didn't have the power to change what was so clearly unfair and unethical.

   In the summer of 2007 I was on my 4th contract with Canada's Wonderland as a performer. In this contract I was a guitar player in a show called "Swinging to the 60's". This company treated musicians like cattle. They constantly used tiny loopholes in our contract to force us into labour that had nothing to do with our contract or our show; perform in parades in nickelodeon costumes, having us go out between shows to hand out pamphlets and advertise the show (which they tried to pass off as "rehearsals"). They may not seem like big asks, but it was rather the culmination of them constantly trying to abuse our contracts to mistreat us in so many small ways that made it a constant battle. 

   At the beginning of the contract we had pictures taken of us so we could sign a separate contract saying this was our set "look" for the summer and it couldn't be changed. The contract was meant to keep us from changing our appearance but didn't actually bind a specific party. Both the staff AND the park signed on the dotted line. Halfway through that fourth contract the general manager decided he didn't want the band to have facial hair. Despite my having had it for all four contracts without complaint and despite the fact I was only working there two days a week I was told it had to go. I refused. As far as I was concerned I had signed a contract saying that what I looked like was meant to stick. It wasn't even really about the beard. I felt I had finally found something I could use to stop being pushed around. I let it go as far as them telling me to go home. Then, that if I didn't shave they would fire me. I wanted them to do it. It wasn't fair and if my getting fired would be the catalyst for some sort of change in how they treated people then it would be worth it. When they finally brought down the axe I called the ministry of labour and I called lawyers for advice. I learned they could basically do whatever they wanted to change the terms of my contract. It was a 50/50 chance if I could get the whole staff mobilized against them that I could make a case in small claims court but I had already been trying to get support from the staff. They loved to complain but not to put their jobs on the line for it. I made my sacrifice for nothing. I'm certain to this day that Wonderland treats their staff just the same, as though James Everett never existed.

   I recently had something even more flagrantly abusive happen to me and found out that yet again, the system would protect those above me from any kind of retribution*. I'm powerless. Yesterday I lamented another small bit of naivete - about there being something out there bigger than me that could protect me - drift away into the abyss of lost childhood hopes. I used my time to feel sorry for myself and all the times I wanted something to be better than it was and found I could do nothing at all. I thought of all the best intentions and how meaningless they can be in the face of law and rote, bills and acts.

   Depressing, no? I thought so. Until I had time to grieve and move on. Today I wake up with feet at the end of my legs, hands at the end of my arms and most importantly, a mind to top it all off. I have power. I have resolve. I have strength learned from years of losses and wins. If the system can't protect me then I'll need to go on protecting myself. The most important parts of me. The ones that don't even make a blip on their radar. Understand that, even though it will be without violence, I consider myself responsible for my own retribution from here on out and everyone should be wary of that. I will defend myself with teeth and tongue and a mind that is more imaginative than the limited scope of the law**. Today I savour right now. I have what it takes. Day 59, in the bag…

*There will be a time and place I can explain this more fully. The time is not now and this may not ever be the place.

**When I was quitting Blockbuster back in college I was quitting because I had had the worst boss of my life (even to this day). He was just horrible to everyone all the time and he constantly lied to customers to sell our Rewards program. When I quit I didn't steal. I didn't find some elaborate way to make a dramatic exit or destroy some part of the institution I had begun to resent. I knew that those outbursts were so easy to forget and attribute to anger or spite. Instead, I spent my last weekend selling more Rewards packages than anyone had in a weekend at that store in years (like, the years when people still rented movies). I did it without lying and with almost every customer leaving with a smile on their face, all the while my boss was next to me at the next till trying to peddle his bullshit to no avail. At the end of the weekend he begged me to stay. He asked what he could do to get me to stay. I told him there was nothing he could ever do but be a different person than who he was. It may seem small, but I bet he will never forget the day he begged an employee to stay. To this day my employee account has a "Do Not Rehire" on it, which I wear proudly.

Friday, March 4, 2011

day 58: starting to get this whole positive outlook thang

Since mentioning the idea of the ship to friends and other musicians I've had a pretty overwhelmingly positive response with just a sprinkle of self-indulgent pessimism. Those are the few people who, as soon as you mention you're going to do something special, choose to immediately levy the worst case scenario on you. "Ooo, that'll get tiresome real quick" or "Ugh, get ready for tiny rooms and sea-sickness. Also birds will try and take your sun-lotion". I made up the last bit, but the point remains. The irony is that these comments usually come from the people who have never been on a ship and just want to seem like they have some valuable advice or anecdote for what I'm about to experience. It doesn't bother me particularly, I'm sure I've done it myself, but in retrospect it's kind of a selfish thing to do.

   I will grant that this behaviour can often be a product of genuine concern, like when a friend who has been on a ship says, "awesome man, you'll have a tonne of fun. Maybe try to pack light, the quarters will probably be a bit tight". Usually when someone without the experience tries to chime in with advice it just comes off as them trying to make themselves important to the situation. It's kind of like when you're experiencing (or 'supposed' to be experiencing) any kind of grief and someone swoons in with these big prophetic declarations of their condolences and how you MUST be feeling. It's about their production, not your pain. If it was about your pain the conversation probably would have started with a question. I find those conversations a little weary, but in this case it actually made me realize something kind of uplifting.

   I started to dwell on all of the things that could go wrong on this trip. Not as an exercise in futility but as a way to measure my resolve. The smallest quarters, the most adverse reaction to the sea, my luggage getting lost, total boredom at sea, playing terrible music every night, rude crew, thieving birds and any assortment of terrible possibilities. What I realized was that nothing could even make me blink. I'm so sure I want this, that this is right for me right now, that there literally isn't a criticism about my current course that could make me turn back. More importantly I know that any of these things could happen and it wouldn't phase me. This blog has been my training ground to move beyond the inclination to dwell on what's missing and in a way to manage how it is that I approach experiences. I'm open to this experience. I'm ready for it to be whatever it turns out to be and am excited at the prospect of the unexpected. I know that whatever happens, for better or worse, I will have what I need to keep going. I also know I will, in the moment, be able to discern and value the parts of my trip that enrich it (and I know there will be no shortage of those). I also know I will be able to see the things that could be better and yet not let them dominate my experience. This excludes physically being on fire or being eaten by a shark. In these instances I will abandon the need to find the positive and simply whimper and/or fight back using Steven Seagal style handjitsu, which is a word I just made up (especially effective against fire).

   So bring it on elements. And stay out of the few fantasies I'm allowing myself. The ones where I'm sipping mohitos on a deck chair, lounging with my new iPad and reading an eBook version of the "sword of truth" series while I think about nothing important and have no pressing concerns. *Sigh*. That's the good stuff…  Day 58, in the bag.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

day 57: musicianship, connectedness and making the rump jump

Today I had a rehearsal with metheus Bound (for late comers, that's my personal project wherein I write/sing/play guitar), which is always a soothing experience. It's the one environment where I never really feel out of place. I know what I want, I usually know how to articulate it and making the music take shape is one of my great loves. Today we spent about thirty minutes just picking apart one verse, trying to figure out how to make the voice sit in the mix of what was happening. Sometimes in these situations you instantly know what needs to happen - a guitar dropping out, a bass line simplifying, a snare hit changed to a cross-stick - but in this case, as in many, the problem I was hearing was elusive. We were sharing the experience, as in, others agreed there was something not sitting right, but the problem I heard persisted even when the others felt we had reached resolution. 

   Even though these moments represent little bubbles of tension in the rehearsal, these are the moments I rehearse for. The moment where you can reach into that musical intuition and dredge up the elegant solution to a problem only you hear. It's incredibly satisfying when you finally find that one part that needed to alter, the change that leaps you toward an almost perfect accord. Today it was a matter of linking the drum part more finitely to the vocal rhythms and when you find solutions like this, you feel the whole band breathe that collective sigh of relief that tells you you've hit the root of the problem. That's the meat and potatoes to me.

   I also got to hear moments today that also bring a lot of excitement to the rehearsal process. Moments where you feel the band start to actually sound and play like a band. One of the reasons I'm not a fan of 'pickup' gigs (gigs where there is no regular band and you rarely get a chance to rehearse) is that whole uncertainty of the chemistry between you and the other players. Even amongst the most skilled, rehearsal is required to learn the personality of the people you're sharing the stage with. You may successfully pull off the show and the audience may seem none the wiser (although I think musicians in this scene underestimate their audiences in this respect) but you will almost always lack that focussed energy that can only come from knowing your fellow musicians and having absolute faith in where they'll be when beat one rears it's head.

   Our rehearsal previous to this one included a guitarist who had never played with us and new songs that we had never played as a group. This left us sounding dry and a little disjointed, even when we played the songs correctly. This week, as I said, I got to witness that dramatic change that happens when that trust starts to build. I got to hear the songs played as though the drummer had written them. I got to hear the guitarist relax into his role and actually play on his strengths. My bass player of course, Ben, sounds like he always sounds; like he's been playing with me for almost a decade and he knows what I'm going to do and what I want to hear. Heh, well, he sounded like a sleep-deprived version of that. Poor guy.

   I guess I wanted to get into this because sometimes people treat music like an unknowable frontier and yet seem to have a yearning to understand what it is musicians get to experience as part of their craft. This is a glimpse at that. It's about being connected. It's also about knowing the material so well that everything you do comes with fluidity and ease, and yet even that simply facilitates your overarching goal: to connect. 

   The reason I think 'pickup' players underestimate their audiences in this is because they think if they manage to play the song 'correctly' that the audience will be satisfied. In 'Top 40' and weddings bands this has a very predictable outcome. When the audience doesn't dance they blame it on the audience, "oh man, what's with these guys, we're playing all the danciest songs we know!". I've heard this phrase a lot before. What they miss, and what the audience doesn't, is that musicians who aren't connected, who are just playing their parts, will never produce that tightness of groove or that focus of intent that literally picks people up out of their seats and makes them move. Sometimes people will dance just for a song they know, but if you want to see if you really have that infectious feel, play a song that NO one knows and see if they dance. If you can do that then you've reached that point. You've reached the place where your communion with the other musicians is so profound that people not on stage can't help but submit to their toes a-tappin and their rumps a-jumpin. It didn't take me long on the dance circuit to tell the difference, so it's odd to hear so many bands still making excuses.

   Don't get me wrong, there will be times where you lay down the grooviest shit this side of James Brown's coffin and the audience is still glued to their seats. The point is, if you find that happens a lot, it might be time to start shouldering a bit of the responsibility and thinking about how you approach your sets. On that note (segue!), metheus Bound has two killing sets in the works for a March 24th show at Clinton's Tavern. If you're in the Toronto area you should probably be there. This will be their first and last show for quite a while due to my cruise ship departure. Get 'em while they're hot! Day 57, in the bag.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

day 55, 56: ships, bass playing and a reason to practice my 'pirate'

So when I said the coming weeks would offer more time to write and get caught up on some prose I obviously didn't count on what's happened in the last couple of days. Around the time of my gig at the Old Nick I was asked by a close friend if I wanted a spot on a cruise ship playing bass. It basically was summed in a text that said, "top 40 band, bass player, april 9th - july 31st, interested?".  After getting some clarification it turns out the band wanted a bass player who might be able to sing lead and now they're getting a lead singer who might be able to play bass. And by 'might' I mean WILL DESTROY ALL LESSER BASSES WITH HIS TASTY LICKS AND SUB-PHONIC FREQUENCIEEEEEEEEES!!!!!

   Sorry, got carried away. My mom has always said I have a horseshoe up my ass, and though I've never really felt it's steely presence I'm rather inclined to agree. Or rather, I'd like to divide credit amongst the universe and myself because that just seems fair. In this case I had had a job where I could never get ahead financially but let me play with lots of people, cultivate relationships and be here in the city. When the job kicks me to the curb, I have this opportunity to pay off my debt in one fell swoop while spending 4 months aboard a cruise going to the mayan riviera and alaska, hanging with arguably one of the coolest guys I know, eating prepared food and playing music every day while lounging/writing/swimming/lounging/exercising/charting/skyping/lounging and generally causing a ruckus the other 20 hours. All aboard a floating palace. Yes please. Table for one. Or rather, bunk-beds for two.

   There are, of course, challenges and hoops to jump. I have to get a physical and might have to get some cavities filled. I have to learn 150 tunes on bass and somehow sing my fair share of them simultaneously (arguable the hardest two instruments to coordinate). But at this point I'm letting myself get excited. Like, maybe too excited. Like, maybe wait til your feet are on the starboard bow (avast, ye land lubbers!) excited.

   I don't care. I've spent a lifetime dulling excitement and fostering caution. When you grow up having a rug pulled out from under you every twenty minutes you learn to guard that kind of expectation. I'm trying my best to unlearn this behaviour. To be fearless and more; to let myself feel to the extent that I can. How can I expect to love with real abandon if I can't abandon the fear that it could end. How can I expect to experience real, exuberant and genuine happiness if I can't throw caution to the wind and just take that leap? There will always be something that can bring you down, there is no perfectly protected Utopia. Everything can change in an instant. I want… No, I need to live without tip-toeing through experiences. It's my constant struggle with control that's in play here (surprise, surprise). My attempt to control the possible disappointment by not letting myself become invested. Always one foot out the door and one hand on the handle. It was a behaviour I had to learn at one point to survive, but now I want freedom. Freedom and the space in me for real excitement.

   That dictator of hope, that's not me anymore. It might still be an inclination but today I'm choosing to move beyond it. Move beyond the doubts, the doubts that I might not be up to it, the doubts that I might not be worthy and told to turn back, the doubts that something will go wrong because it's a perfect opportunity and all good things must come with a price in my world. And the price is usually the wrench in the spokes. I don't accept that. All I have to do is look at all the wonderful experiences I HAVE managed to have, the people who HAVE stuck around to remind myself that good things do happen for me and I have a right to them.

   I have a right to this and I'm going to fight to keep it. You might not see a lot of me in the coming weeks. Practice, practice, practice. Once I'm hands on deck though, I'll have nothing but time. Let's see how this month progresses. Day 55 and 56, in the bag. Oh shit, I need luggage...

Monday, February 28, 2011

day 54: MC Everett, the box of life and what it means to some

I played an acoustic show tonight at a cool little pub called The Old Nick (that served amazing pesto burgers!). I decided to conduct a little social (and musical) experiment. I brought with me to the venue a box marked "Life Is…" fashioned into something like a ballot box, a pencil case and dozens of strips of paper. About halfway through the show I explained a bit about the blog and what I was doing, and that I wanted everyone to finish the sentence started on the box. My friend Nyree assisted, handing out pens and slips of paper and then collecting them a couple songs later and putting them in the box. I also explained that near the end of the show I was going to pull one of these conclusions of "Life is…" randomly out of the box and make up a song on the spot. I had pre-thought nothing; lyric, melody or chord, it would all me designed off of the one sentence that I would choose.

   The phrase I ended up retrieving from the "Box of Life" was "Life is a chance to see what life is". I thought that was actually pretty cool. The song itself went rather well I'd say, with only a few lines mumbled incoherently and most even rhyming! MC Everett, what?!?!

   Anyway, I knew what I wanted to do from the get-go, which was share the results with all of you. Some are funny, some are serious and everything in between, but the coolest thing is, most are from people I've never even met. Here's a list of what Life is to some of us…

Life is a never ending journey.
Life is full of mystery.
Life is facebook, these days.
Life is growth.
Life is in between lie and line in the dictionary.
Life is making you laugh.
Life is a chance to see what life is.
Life is all about the trajectory of the hippopotamus.
Life is what you make it to be.
Life is made up of all the in-betweens.
Life is… a beanstalk…  isn't it?
Life is Free Bird.*
Life is the excitement of falling in love!
Life is a turnip.
Life is better with you in it.
Life is an excellent excuse to look fantastic!
Life is too effing short.
Life is a long road, but a journey worth taking.
Life is a way of finding out what we handle.
Life is a four letter word.

   I laughed at a lot of these and took time to ponder on a few. The sad thing is, the person who wrote the chosen line, "Life is a chance to see what life is" never admitted to writing it, which was too bad because I wanted to commend them on a great lyric. I'd also like to say, that if you're reading this and have a unique way to end your own "Life is…" question, comment it! I'd love to read it. Today I savour 20 ideas from 20 individuals (and possibly more to come). Day 54, in the bag.

*This was probably in response to me telling the audience that if they requested Free Bird I would stab them.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

day 53: a melody, a lyric and a song

I've given up… Life isn't what I was promised and I feel like there's nothing anyone can do about it. Wars rage, politicians play their games and even art has been bought by big money who churn it out as pablum for the complacent masses… is what I WOULD say if I had. I wouldn't, and yet I have been close enough to know why one might and in such a moment wrote a song as that man. At first I thought it was me in an alternate universe but really it's just another part of me who needs release once in a while. As I often do, I found that release in a melody, a lyric and a song. Today I savour the balance that we all need to keep going.


written by James Everett

Goodbye my love,
Though we surely had some times worth remembering
And though I'm just as torn as you that this is ending
I'm sorry love but I have to walk away

Hello my son,
Though it's hard to understand while you're so young
And though I know for you that life has just begun
I'm sorry son but I have to walk away

Hello the ghost,
that I've been living with for most of my life
I'm laying at your feet, the heart of my strife
So now I think that it's time to walk away

Cause this life is cold but you'd be a fool,
To think with words you could change the truth of it
I'd rather be sticking it out on my own
Than live among you but feel alone with,
Just my thoughts and hopes
That you'd hold me close, even as I go, as I walk away

Well hello Mother,
Thanks for the man that you've uncovered
And though I could never repay the life that you gave
I've learned from mistakes that you've made
So I'm sorry mom, but I have to walk away

Cause this life is cold but you'd be a fool,
To think with words you could change the truth of it
I'd rather be sticking it out on my own
Than live among you but feel alone with,
Just my thoughts and hopes
Cause I love you so, but I have to go, I have to walk away

Goodbye my friends,
My greatest regret I'd say, is that we never met

NOTE: Any lyrics that differ from the recording are how I sing it now

Saturday, February 26, 2011

day 52: best friends, worst enemies, and everything in between

There's a person in my life I'm never quite finished with. I don't know any other way to put it simply. I think we all have that person in our life. We've loved them, hated them, moved on, never let go... The one thing that remains consistent is that no matter where you left off you will always miss them when you think of them and when you see them again after so long apart, you will quietly let go of whatever grudge you had fully intended to hold. The universe, for whatever reason, has connected that person to you in a way that may never be defined and will never truly dissipate. You may be friends, lovers, partners, combatants, distant acquaintances, infatuations, true friends or sworn enemies, but more likely, you will be all of these things at different times.

   What I think I'm starting to understand is that no label will ever fill the space you leave between the two of you, no matter how large or small. You were never meant to understand your role with this person. It was always meant to be ambiguous. And if it some day takes a shape you know how to express, don't lose heart when it changes yet again. A creek doesn't complain when a fallen tree diverts it's path, it simply flows along the tree until it can continue it's course. The only thing it controls is that it is constantly moving forward.

   I want to be more like the creek. Accepting the power of nature, but not powerless. We always have the power to keep going. This new path is unknown and sometimes uncomfortable but more and more I'm finding courage in myself. That I don't always need to know what's next. That not everything I need and want can be chosen. Not everything I need/want can be chosen…  Hm.

Short blog, but some food for thought. And I'm always hungry.

Friday, February 25, 2011

day 51: think like a kid: every bump in the road is a chance to get air

It's been a crazy few days. Despite having an extra 24 hours in my week and waking up early I seem to be busier than ever. Today I spent working on my resume, waiting around at Service Canada then chilling with a dear friend. Tomorrow morning it's up for 6:30a so I can head north for some zip-lining and snow-tubing (god bless you groupon, or whichever it was). Then at night I'll be shedding my winter boots for my dancing shoes until late. I don't know when I'll find time to catch up, but I want y'all to know that I'm having adventures and introspecting and doing all the things human's ought to do. I will be back with prose in the near future.

Also a fun note, if you're free monday night (Feb 28th) come and grab a pint with me at the Old Nick (Broadview Station). I'm doin' an acoustic set. Music starts around 7:30. And bring a pen, we're gonna make ourselves a community blog and I'm gonna improvise a song about it. It's gonna be grand.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

day 50: revelry, mistakes and what it means to be fatherless

Today I actually talked a month's worth of blogs with an old friend over a pint. She's a friend who, like me, has put a lot of time and effort into self-discovery and introspection. Quite ironically, this pint took place when I was meant to be at a rehearsal, not 2 city blocks away. I missed the entire rehearsal with my phone on vibrate.

   I say 'ironic' because it will be the topic for this evening's blogatron. Upon realizing what had happened I was immediately and forcibly disappointed with myself. I was supposed to leave teaching and go right to rehearsal, not, grab a drink with my friend and forget entirely. It took some work to quiet my despair over my colossal fuck-up (naturally, for the sake of my friend, playing it like it wasn't a big deal). Anyone in tune with my last 3 weeks wouldn't begrudge me my distraction and scatterbrain, but I have a hard time being as forgiving with myself. I've honestly NEVER missed a rehearsal by simply forgetting it existed. It's upsetting to think of the people I let down, or who's time I wasted, or who's respect I lose with little events like this. It took some work to let it go, deal with the here and now and accept the consequences of what happened. It also takes equal or greater effort to convince myself it isn't actually a big deal. I know that missing one rehearsal, regardless of the circumstances isn't going to stop the world from turning. It probably isn't even going to reflect in my next performance with this band (since we don't have any upcoming gigs).

   The part where the irony really sets in is in one of the topics we hit over that ill-gotten alcohol. Both of us having a fairly tumultuous upbringing, we talked about the affects of having somewhat absentee fathers. It's obviously different for women than it is in men, but one of the main things a man loses is the opportunity to push against someone. The ability to, as we are figuring out who we are, push against our "ideal" male to define where we stand. This offers us two significant learning/growing opportunities; the ability to see stability and constancy (I can push against you and you won't disappear) and the ability to know where your boundaries are by pushing against the boundaries of the person you had emulated until now. For me, these opportunities were lost. I didn't really rebel to find out who I was and I've never been totally sure that I could be in conflict with someone I care about and have them be there when the dust settled. There were a million times I wanted to argue or shout back when my mother would reprimand me, but how could I argue with the one person who was still there and know I wouldn't end up alone?

   The job of defining the ideal male for me then went into stories, tv and movies. I built my concept of the perfect father, boyfriend and man out of heroes in the stories I loved. With this expectation I became the man I am today, and truthfully, I'm very proud of who I am. There are drawbacks though. I have had, in the past, an expectation to be a person no one could ever be, perfect in every way. Somewhere along the line my need to be a human being conflicts with that. The need to be hurt, express pain, to allow myself to fail, to allow myself to be who I really am instead of who I think I should be. It doesn't fit with those men in the stories. They are stalwart, and strong. They solve problems and take it where others would fold. They don't need approval and they will say what needs to be said, even when it hurts (something I used in place of rebelling). All of these are things I wanted to be, but they didn't encompass all of the things I was already growing to be, a lover of laughter and mischief, a horrible academic (in the traditional sense), a person who needs to be loved and cared for (like any human being), and on and on. All these traits that made me human, not a hero.

   Obviously this is a journey for many people and even though I've made leaps and bounds along this highway (thanks to mix-master-mary), I still sometimes struggle with forgiving myself. Tonight was a good example of that. I made a mistake in a time of huge change and upheaval, and you know what? Even without this week's understandable flakeyness I should be able to make a mistake and not hate myself for it. I'm not perfect, and thank god I'm not. I've much preferred living life as a human being. Someone who encompasses everything it means to be human, good and bad. That puts day 50 in the bag. Good gravy, 50 days. Plodding on. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

day 49: jesus, don't take the wheel, I got this...

I have a habit of taking control when control is taken from me. It's my way of coping. When something really throws me for a loop or shows me a bit of chaos I couldn't plan for I tend to over exert my control in another area. Over exert makes it sound kind of negative, but I'm actually pretty good at making it have a positive impact.

   Certain things lately, large things, have been wrestled from my control and I've made some pretty big moves to fill the gap. The biggest move has been to re-imagine myself a little. If James is to grow from this point, where could he grow too? If I want to move onto something new (in this case, career wise) what's the best next step? And how do I grab the reins and start steering this mustang down the path that fits?

   When it comes to jobs I'm a tough sell. I've only really stuck to one job in my life for over a year and it's because I need new challenges and new experiences in my days. As soon as something becomes rote it becomes a chore and I need to move on to something new. This can be a troublesome trait in blue collar jobs but it also manifests itself with people, if only in relationships that exist in constant cyclical interactions. If it feels like a treadmill, I get anxious. Most of my relationships aren't though, they're living organisms that are alive with meaning and purpose. It doesn't need to be conflict, it just can't be static (or in the treadmill analogy, static with the appearance of movement).

   Anyhizzle, I first thought of 3 things I've imagined myself doing over the last year; psychology, music theatre and video game development. Only slightly different fields, right? As I say, no person is any one thing. All represent different aspects of myself, different manifestations of my passion and all are highly stimulating for me. At this stage of the game I figure, why put only one iron in the fire? In just the last 12 hours I've travelled to Sheridan College to talk with the Program Coordinator of their music theatre program about jumping into their audition process, called up friends in the video game industry to ask about hooking me up with a Q.A. position (game testing) and talked at length to a psychoanalyst about a 6 year program in downtown TO to become a psychotherapist (talk therapy).

   This might be what I mean about over exerting. I'm making solid steps in the right directions, but so many directions and with such force. Mary would say to slow it down (actually, Mary DID say to slow it down), but I'm not sure I want to fight my natural mechanism to move on and throw myself back into the fray. I know in some ways it's to ignore what comes of losing that original control (something I'm apparently not ready to grieve yet), but at this point I don't have a lot of options but to push on and do the best I can do.

   So today I'm appreciating the knack for a little rash planning, the ability to cope with losing control, and the inclination to always keep myself in over my head. Day 49. Was in the bag, but the bag fell in a river and got washed away. I fashioned a new bag out of chain mail cause that's how I do. Day 49, in the chain mail satchel. Let's see your arrows fuck with it now, fate! Your chaos arrows! I've lost my train of thought… These next few days will be scattered. Steel yourself.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

day 48: megabus, megamom and chance meetings

I had a neat little adventure on friday night. I was due to come back to Toronto from Kingston after visiting with me mum and so found myself at the Kingston terminal, Megabus ticket in hand. Turns out CoachCanada (they who run the Megabus routes in Canada) is as bad at predicting volume as I am at weather. It's goin rain! *Cue snow storm

   This was like that, except all the signs should have pointed to GET MORE DAMN BUSSES since it was the start of reading week for many, the end for others and a long weekend for EVERYone. Instead, I arrive 25 minutes early for my 7:15p departure and find a line up of about 200 people. This included about 50 people who had been waiting for the 5:15p bus to have it never arrive. I personally handle these situations pretty well, but by the time 8:15 rolled around with no signs of more bussage and no direction/information from the station itself I was admittedly on the brink of losing my patience. By 8:30 a bus DID roll in from Montreal, but it only had 13 seats available to continue it's trip west and those were gone almost immediately.

   "Think of the solution, not the problem", right. So I call up my mum (mom and mum are interchangeable for me) and ask if she can look into car rental places that might still be open. Another guy from the line had tried to interest people in splitting a cab ride but the cabby was asking $370 (which is just insulting) and I figured I had a better way. A few in the line became interested and asked me questions. Some, instead, opted to make shivering noises, I assume to draw my attention to the fact that they of all the people were most in need of shelter and aide. These, coincidentally, were also the people who had been complaining ceaselessly about the injustice of Megabus doing this to them. One incident even had a girl putting the newly arrived bus driver on the phone with her mother so her mother could bitch for 15 minutes about why her daughter "needed" to be on that bus. The poor driver couldn't take it and caved. You tried good sir, you tried but were found wanton.

   After a bit of waiting my mom called and said there were no rental places open. She then offered to give me a ride to the Oshawa GO Station. This is a big drive for her, at least 2 hours there, then another 2 back and it was already nearing 9 o'clock. I hate to be an imposition on people as a rule, even my family. When I went to school I didn't want my mom to pay for anything. She covered my cell phone the first couple years but I never went to her for emergency money, or called her when I had a problem, I dealt with it on my own. I thought that's how it should be. I've since learned more about people and what it means for someone to offer help and what it means to accept. Some times letting someone come to your rescue is as rewarding for them as it is for you. It's also just important to know that you're not alone and leaning on a friend or family member once in a while is actually a demonstration of trust and care rather than an act of taking advantage (although some walk the other side of that line, for certain). Because of that understanding I've gotten better at accepting and appreciating help and in this instance, I was ready to do just that.

   As I got off the phone a young pair of students asked if I had managed to rent a car. I had already been considering what to do about the other two seats in the car since my mum had offered them up to others in the line if I wanted. Captain Shivers seemed to need it but I knew she'd be stale company. It may sound selfish but I decided then and there if I was going to throw a bone to 2 people in 200, I could at least do myself (and my mum) the favour of bringing people who might be entertaining. The two students who had asked were actually among the only in the crowd who had spent the whole hour and a half joking and laughing instead of complaining. I explained the rental shops were closed, but if they were game I was getting a ride to Oshawa. Best choice I could have made.

Christine and Shawn turned out to be two very cool, very funny human people. We spent most of the time squished in the back seat of my mum's Cavalier, talking and laughing. My mum spent most of it white-knuckled and wide eyed as 100km/hr gusts of wind came in and out like Anne Heche. Thanks mom! You're the best! Haha, oie. All in all we made it home thanks to a fast friendship, my mom being awesome, and Shawn's dad driving into Oshawa to take us the last leg of the trip (also awesome). In the end it was a better ride than I could have hoped for on the Megabus, even if I arrived a little later and started my journey a little frozen.

   I think this is part of that concept of not sweating the things that are out of your control. Don't let life's bumps make you angry and bitter, even in the moment. Okay, maybe a bit of anger in the moment, but anger didn't get us in a car and safely back to Toronto. Thinking of solutions did and taking control of the few things we could. Without their attitude, I wouldn't have chosen them. Without my attitude, the solution wouldn't have presented itself and we could have been on that platform for hours more. It worked out great for 3 stranded travellers on a cold friday night and it continues to serve me now. Day 48, in the bag. I think I'm getting the hang of this.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

day 47: interruptions by your best friend and appreciating presence

This Blog has been jacked SUCKA! So James is savouring a day off of blogging right now and I, Joshua "MCOJ" Tustin, am taking the reins. I am an inexperienced blogger and I warn you that my sentence structure, sucks banana runs Eiffel tower.

   You can't see it, but I have written and erased about 15 paragraphs of possible blog action. I have way more respect for James for being able to put all his thoughts and feelings out there. This is hard. I guess I've never really felt like a guy that had a lot to say. I am much more of a conversationalist than a writer. I like the back and forth. Bouncing ideas off of others and sharing opinions.

   It seems to be getting harder to find opportunities to do that. Most conversations nowadays are fragmented into "LOL"s and emoticons. I'm reall agitated by texting and MSN or BBM or facebook messenger or whatever the hell you kids are into these days. I always misinterpret shit and take things the wrong way and vise versa. How many times has someone gotten mad at you for something you said in a text or on an instant message chat because they took it in a way that you didn't intend? I think it really shows our insecurities. If I read something that I know was meant as a sarcastic joke or just an innocent comment I can pretty much choose how I wanna take it. If I am having a "fat" day I might get pissed about someone asking what I had for dinner. It is just not the way I wanna communicate.

   Ha ha ha, I was just thinking that you could be reading this and think that I sound really bitter (irony fail). Trust me that is not the case. I get how texting and MSN and all that can even strengthen relationships if it is all that you can do. If I was to spend a lot of time away from my wife, a text would make my day and an msn chat may be a lifeline. All I am saying is that I think we, as a society, and me, as an individual, need to really appreciate the time that we spend with others. I just had a late night dinner with my best friend and my wife and it was a blasty. Nothing exciting or amazing happened but I just really enjoyed the great company.

   Sharing is caring y'all. Put it to the test. Watch a comedy. Now watch a comedy with your three best friends. It's probably three times as funny even if it sucks. Hell, it's probably funnier because it sucks. Whenever I do something fun I always think, "shit son, I have got to tell James about this shit". And yes, that is how I think. I just love the feeling of sharing something I love with others. Or having them share with me.

   So ask your friends questions. Simple things that can lead to learning something new. And ask yourself two questions. If you were to die tomorrow, what would you tell the people you love? And, why haven't you told them yet? I might recommend not bbming it to them.

Joshua "MCOJ" Tustin


Hey all! James here. Insane day today. I spent the whole day tracking a song/video for a band I play in called Monday the Milestone. I got loads of free time coming though, so I promise some proper postage soon. That being said, what did y'all think of the guest writer? I thought it might be neat to have a friend interpret the blog once in a while. I gave Josh no warning, but I think he did a fine job. I think it's neat to see, A) another person's interpretation and where it takes them, and B) the way my friends write in this environment. Neato! More to come!

Friday, February 18, 2011

day 45, 46: in transit

Yesterday and today I've been/I'm going to be running around like crazy, getting my drivers license (re-getting) in Kingston and visiting my mom. Here's two miniature moments to stand in place of proper posts:

1. Rode the bus to Kingston in the most uncomfortable seats, next to someone who took up a sizable portion of my seat...BUT, I did meet two interesting women, used wifi on the bus and my ticket cost me $10. Megabus, a-waaaaaay!

2. Timing. Call it kharma or good planning but in the last few days things have worked out really well timing wise, even when the "plan" had to be scrapped altogether. Sometimes things won't happen in the order or time you expect (or at all). Worrying about it won't change it. Throwing a fit won't change it. You only have two options; go with the flow or take action. I'm starting to get a good balance of those two things and not letting the chaos that is life get me down. Miniature (actually, significant) win!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

day 44: thank you brain

Today I appreciate the head on my shoulders. Thank you brain for making me scattered. I know you only do it when you know I've got too much on my plate. You scatter my thoughts to keep me safe. You scatter my thoughts to keep me sane. You remind me of important stuff at JUST the last minute so I don't ever truly mess up. Sorry I've hated you so much in the past. I know you're doing the right thing, even if it's the hard thing. The thing that makes you unpopular. I can relate. Let's be friends.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

day 43: courage and what it means to be an extraordinary machine

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow."  Mary Anne Radmacher

I'm continually asked to qualify what possesses a man to wear such personal affects in a public forum. Translates to: WTF w/ teh blog? This is an interesting question because the answer is fairly complex. The best answer is, I'm learning every day why I write this blog. The process itself informs me and the process will let me know when I'm done and what I've achieved. Today's reason may not be tomorrow's but as long as I have your attention, let me explain a bit of why this process persists in me this week.

   Truth be known, this blog-writing thing terrifies me. Some days I sit with my cursor over "Publish Post" for minutes at a time. I constantly question if I'm making the right choice making all of my most vulnerable moments a public tribunal. Ironically, that horror and fear is part of what makes me eventually hit publish. I'm a believer that courage not tested is not courage at all. Writing this is a way to test my will. In some strange way I feel like I need to scare myself to keep moving forward. It's even something I practice with my vocal students. I talk about it in day 26, but basically the process involves putting yourself in ever more nerve-wracking performance environments. Keep pushing yourself into things that make you nervous and eventually you can conquer that fear.

   In television land we call this "extreme sports". These are men and women who have learned that they are prewired to seek the next challenge and have made a career out of it. We call them thrill seekers, and seek they do. We idolize them for their daring because they are the fulfillment of the occasions we didn't rise to, the goals we let slip from fear of failure (or in this analogy, fear of bodily harm).

   In a way, what I do here fulfills that same purpose. I write these posts for a million reasons but part of it is that I find it really challenging and I love to dare myself to be that vulnerable. It's not as cool as watching someone try to jump 100 school buses on a motorcycle, but it's just as important to my career as a musician that I challenge myself and do things that scare me. Especially things that explore the murky depths that are me. That's the kind of stuff I want to write songs about, that's the stuff that, for me, taps the human experience. It's not just something I'm prewired to do, it's my job.

   This blog won't be here forever and I won't always choose to put the trials of my life on display. Eventually I will reach the goal I haven't yet set and move on to something that pushes me even further. When I get there I will be terrified, and hesitant, and possibly (probably) pee my pants, but I know I'll get through it. Today it's not something big. Today the scariest thing is just imagining getting up tomorrow and fighting the good fight. It doesn't need to be big. But it will never be easy. That's how you know it's courage. And that's day 43. In the bag.

Fiona Apple's Extraordinary Machine

Monday, February 14, 2011

day 42: happy valemtimes! last mushy post for a bit, promise

I recently played a game of "what-if" all up in my mind-grapes. I met a pretty rad woman who has a son and it made me wonder what it would be like to date a woman who had a kid. It was a bit weird to even contemplate. I think we all, while young, entertain our fantasies of how it's all going to play out and I think it's a fair bet that our expectations start with the perfect person who has no kids, no prior marriages and is not sporting too much emotional baggage. We imagine nurturing and raising our own children with that person, taking them to soccer practice and being called "Dad" (especially moms). Maybe some of us pictured a fight here and there, a few trials, but it's not until you start to really see life as it is that some of those expectations demand a little scrutiny.

   At one point I was seriously pondering on what it would mean to me to adopt a child instead of having my own. It wasn't like I hated the idea, it was more like I had never even considered it as a possibility. That same confusion now infiltrates my musings on being with someone who has kids from a previous relationship. I guess viscerally there is a hesitance around it, it obviously doesn't jive with my original concept of what my relationships would be, but at the same time I feel like it may not matter at all. The woman I'm with could make all the difference. Like when I met my first really serious girlfriend and found out she smoked. "Ah well, she's awesome but she smokes, it'll never happen". Yeah, that lasted about 3 weeks. In the end the sum of all she was completely outweighed my "need" to date a non-smoker.

   I guess what I'm getting at is, as you grow up you start to learn the difference between a "need" in the person you want to be with, and a "want". I would never ask a woman or man to lower their expectations of how they should be treated for instance, but I may have thought of a way to separate one from the other. I'm gonna call it, "Quality by Entitlement". It's a test that will actually produce different results based on who you are as a person, that's why it might actually work. All you do is speak a sentence out loud, starting with "I deserve someone who…" and finish it with a quality/trait. If the answer sounds "off" to you, you're probably giving the quality undue importance. If you finish the sentence and it feels right, then you've hit something you probably shouldn't compromise on.

I deserve someone who treats me with respect. That just sounds right to me. That's a quality I won't compromise on.
I deserve someone who owns their own car sounds stupid to me when said out loud. Now I know that that's not important enough to me to factor in.
I deserve someone who is my equal sounds right. That one is a "need".
I deserve someone who has never had children before. That actually doesn't resonate with me. It does trigger something, and deserves more thought, but it still feels wrong. I vote it down as a "need".

   The reason I think this system can work is that it's based on your own intuition about the different qualities you assess. For instance, you might say to yourself "I deserve someone who doesn't have children" and your most visceral reaction is, "yeah, that resonates, I really DON'T want to be with someone who has kids already". THAT'S OKAY. In fact it's better than okay; it's perfect, for you. You're basically asking yourSELF how important a quality is to you and letting yourSELF decide. Your answers don't have to match anyone else's. Your goal is only to learn what matters to you. Try it. Say some things out loud and study your gut reaction. What did you learn about what you "need"?

   The other thing to keep in mind is that we are ever learning, evolving, changing and growing. Maybe 20 year old James would have hated the idea of dating a girl who has a kid already, but you know what? That was his right. I'm not the same person then as I am now. And it's not like I lowered my standards to reach this new conclusion, I simply matured into the concept that everyone has something from their past life, nobody's perfect, and it doesn't actually bother me that what they bring from their old life is a little human. That's an acceptance I grew into. Meanwhile, my expectation about how I should be treated, listened to, respected and accepted hasn't really changed over the years.

   I guess I'm starting to look at relationships in adult terms more and more. If my mom read this she would probably say, "of course dummy, there are remarkable women out there you would be missing out on otherwise" because she is wise and I'm just starting to get the big picture. But I don't think the question of what qualities/baggage your mate should and shouldn't have (ie; the conversation of "settling") really ever goes away, even if the qualities you're measuring change with time. Like from, "I deserve someone who will always text me back right away" to "I deserve someone who makes me feel like I'm home". Yeah. That second one feels right.

Happy Valemtimes everybody!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

day 41: romance in the air (reprise)

Day 11 featured some misadventures concerning the romancing of one lady on behalf of a friend. Before you take that the wrong way, click here for that story.

   Now that we're all caught up, today represented the kibosh on that objective and the culmination of over a month's planning and scheming (planning's deviant, but better read brother). Over the last month, my friend, committed to romancing his lady back into his loving embrace, wrote a rather beautiful song about her. The song was to be performed on his visit back to Toronto at an open mic, with her quite unaware until the song was underway. This event took place this evening.

   The original plan involved pyrotechnics and an elaborate pulley system with a live baby wearing fake wings and holding a bow and arrow, but we scrapped that early on (when my neighbours noticed their baby missing). The next plan was much more simple. Get a band to be on stage, a band that the lady wouldn't know but that would already know how to play the song. Get our Don Juan to come on stage and act like he's never met us and then BAAM, play the song through perfectly (much to everyone's surprise), evoke a tsunami of tears and win our man back into the lady's good graces.

   Like any good romance movie or book (or sonnet in the days of yore) it wouldn't have been authentic without a slew of hiccups and last minute debacles seemingly meant to derail our best laid plans. Like the venue needing all open mic-ers to arrive at 5pm for sign up. Then again at 7pm to choose a time to play. Then again at 8pm when the open mic starts. Unfortunately we had decided to rehearse the tune at 4pm on the day of and it's an hour transit to the venue. Because of this, the singer/guitar playing Don Juan couldn't actually make it to the rehearsal until 6pm, then cabbed it back to the venue to secure a time. Then the only way he could get a time earlier than 1:30am would be to do only one song. Well this ruined the scam we had where the band members did a song as a trio and then Don Juan just barged in to play his song. Our ruse seemed to be foiled, and good.

   We needed a different plan and we didn't get a chance to make one until we had all arrived at the venue. I text Don Juan to meet me in the washroom and we talk strategy. Apparently this is a known function of the washroom because other peeing men started chiming in their two cents. New plan is: band goes up and sets up, he leaves the table once we're all ready to go. He even spiced up his exit by adding a "I guess that's my cue" and then handing his lady an iPhone with the lyrics on it. No hesitation the song begins and as I understand it, we achieved our tsunami. My man sung beautifully, the band played great and after it happened we all had a sit down and I finally got to formally meet the woman for whom I had raced the length of Toronto and arranged a band (paid for in steak and broccoli).

   She's lovely and quite deserving of my wonderful friend. And the romance? Big win. That means I'm starting to actually bank good karma. If there were a good vibes free market, I'd be investing right now. Now's the time, the market's got no where to go but up!

   I'm also piling up on mushy love experiences (that by some cruel joke, haven't involved me directly yet). I see that as a good thing. Apparently all you need is love. Course, if you follow that line of thinking you may also believe we all live in a yellow submarine and that the sea mainly consists of time, holes and monsters. I'm gonna make it an original thought and say, all you need is love and fleece blankets. Everything else is optional. Fleece blankets, here I come!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

day 40: mario, weddings and trial by shoe

Tonight was really nice. I went out to the wedding of two friends. It was a beautiful wedding with heart felt words, endearingly awkward moments and a bit of music provided by myself and a couple of guitar playing friends (including a performance of the Mario theme song for the wedding party's processional. Awesome).

   It had one especially cool moment where the MC had the bride and groom sit in chairs on the dance floor facing away from each other and blindfolded. Then each of them was given one of their own shoes in hand and one of their partner's shoes in the other. Questions were asked like, "who does the cleaning" and the bride and groom would each hold up the shoe of the person they attributed the answer to. I'd never seen this done at a wedding and it was really cool.

   Some of it was inane like the cleaning comment (or who does the cooking, etc), but then they started to add more polarizing questions, like who's a better cook or who's a better driver. It was really charming to watch them really honestly answer and see how well they had taken stock of each other's strengths and weaknesses. They weren't always in sync, but those were actually some of their best answers. It was always when the question attributed real respect or care for the other person. Like, who's the most generous. Almost every time a question took this turn the bride would hold aloft the groom's shoe and the groom the bride's. It was really endearing and made me take stock of what it means to truly care about someone else. The respect you offer. The ability to put the other person before yourself. I was shocked when the question "who is smarter" came up because I've always worried that could be a point of contention in a relationship. They surprised everyone again by answering each other. How perfect an answer. They respect in each other the intelligence and wisdom each holds, even though it would likely be in much different ways. I don't think they were trying to be kind in this, and I don't think they were selling themselves short. It just went to show how much they truly respect the person they're committed to for life.

   My authenticity meter was as present as ever, but it found no word of a lie and no trace of the disingenuous. It's really wonderful to see two people so perfectly intwined and in love. It makes me warm inside. Maybe in the past it would have me dwell on the life I've yet to truly share with another person, but I didn't need the blog to remind me of how futile that would be tonight. Instead I just enjoyed the good company and celebrated a happy day. Day 40. Short but sweet. Night interwizzles!

Friday, February 11, 2011

day 39: 30 Rock, distractions, and-OOOO look at the puppy!

Blog is tough competition for 30 Rock. Tina Fey is speaking to me through a charismatic, calamity creating, comedy conduit! Also, she's a fox. Alec Baldwin too. If they ever get together on the show I'm going to be jealous of both of them. I'm not gay but I'm told it's not that complicated to switch.

   Speaking of distractions, I've been noticing lately how full my life is with them. Especially at home. I get all A.D.D. up in here on a regular basis and it's bad news (I won't say 'bad news bears' because Billy Bob Thornton ruined it for everyone). I get home and check my email. Then turn on my iTunes while I write my replies and then hear a song I like. I crank the volume and go to the drums, jam along with the next few tunes that come on. Get a phone call and start walking around, end up on the bed. Conversation ends and I think, my, reclining is nice, so I turn on the TV (free cable, what what! Take that Rogers!). After flipping back and forth between the comedy network and teletoon for 20 minutes I turn on the Xbox and run around in Assassin's Creed just startin' shit for no reason. Shoot a couple citizens with a crossbow. Parachute off the top of the colosseum and try and land on a horse, mess it up and spend 5 minutes climbing back to the top of the colosseum to try again (turns out you can't do it). Get bored and remember I wanted to clean the floors. Vacuum the living room until I find a bill I was supposed to pay, run to the computer to online bankify it. Reward myself with a few more episodes of 30 Rock while making a peanut butter sandwich, check my email again. Jump to editing a project in pro tools, realize I want to record an overdub, setup the amp and guitar for a quick track, do the overdub and realize I had intended to call the chiropractor. Check my email again. Check my email again. Check my email again.

   Don't get me wrong, I've got long stretches of good headspace and focus (you should see me in rehearsals, I'm johnny-on-the-shutthehellupanddoitagain), but everyone's had these days where you just can't settle. While I'm sure attacking the root of this problem would be handy (day 38, ahoy there!), this is a case where I worry the problem could be endemic to the symptoms. My house is simply full of too many options! Especially since the computer alone is 10,000 things to do. I've created an environment that doesn't just sustain my more distractive tendencies, it exacerbates them.

   I need to find a way to shut it down once in a while. I think I've come up with a good way to start. I get home from work every day at 1:30pm (I also have 7 locks and a pit bull, fuck off Hamburgler). Even though I'm on a computer all day at work, I still have a neurotic tendency to check my computer upon my arrival home for new messages. I also check before work (how lame is that? *sigh*). BUT, I can program my computer to turn off at night (which I already do at 1am in case I forget to shut it off) and have it not turn itself back on again until 4pm. That's a minimum of 2 hours a day I spend at home with no computer. So no music library, no online games, no email checking, no anything in my digital window. That's a first step. A first step in trying to quiet down my home experience once in a while. Any other suggestions? I'll give free cold pizza to the best ideas! Also, doritos!

   I may have one-upped the year to savour concept. This is better than appreciating what you have, it's trying to appreciate having even less! James FTW!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

day 38: letters, trust and extracting from experiences

A young boy writes a letter to his mother. He's visiting with his father for the summer, but he's allowed to write back now and again and he's only recently begun to spell to his own satisfaction. He's six and he writes in purple crayon on a light green piece of paper. He lays on the floor and chooses his words carefully. He chooses his words carefully because he knows his dad will read it. He's afraid that if he says the wrong thing it will be repeated in court. It will be repeated in court and it will hurt mommy, just like last time. At the age of six, he doesn't trust adults. Not strangers and not those closest to him. He's already lost the belief that parents are there to protect and nurture. Lost the belief that adults are infallible beings. He's writing in code. He doesn't mention physical objects from his mother's world. He doesn't mention her boyfriend. He doesn't talk about his sisters. The letter is finished and he hands it over, signed and sealed in an envelope. It doesn't matter. Envelopes can be opened and resealed. It was just in case. You have to be careful.

   I've spent a lot my adult life trying to extract meaning from patterns and experiences. It's complicated work and often emotionally draining, but it's work I'm wholly committed to. If you ever hope to grow as a human being you have to be willing to do two things. One is be honest with yourself. That's the harder of the two, and if you can manage that then the next step is simply to dig. Dig and dig and dig. Find a pattern, and dig for the root. How and why did this behaviour start? Why was it necessary then and do I need it now? Not all patterns are bad. Some will simply be a part of what makes you, you. Which means sometimes it's just about understanding yourself better. And if you come across a behaviour that does cause you anxiety, that you want to change, you still can't fix it without addressing the root of the problem. The why.

   In comparison to some of my past introspections the question that arose in me today was pretty easy to figure out. Why am I so wary of people's authenticity? Whether it's a compliment or someone just referencing their own accomplishment I am continuously and hyper-actively listening for the lie. Whether sarcasm or bold faced fabrication; subversive or overt, I suspect many things as untrue until it can be proven otherwise. It's why I'm slow to trust people (especially men) and why I'm usually the first person to spot someone being duplicitous. Except it's overdone. I worry everyone's a fake, everyone is putting on a show. And perhaps a lot of us are. It was Shakespeare who wrote, "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players". While I hope to play, I hope never to be "playing at" who I am and I'm weary of the possibility others might be.

   As I said, it has an easily identifiable root and, comparatively, little complexity. I was that little boy. Learning the things I needed to learn to survive what my life was…things no child should have to learn. Not at that age. Not to lose faith in those who were charged with their care. Not to grow into a man who has a hard time trusting anyone's authenticity. That's a behaviour I'd rather be without. And identifying the root is that first step.

   There's always a balance though. I became so good at detecting falseness that I was even wary of it in myself. I've tried very hard to keep duplicity out of my life. To be the same person to every person I meet as best I can. Lately it has seemed an impossible venture. It's not always the game the world wants you to play, but I'm starting to see that there are ways to make it work. No one person is any one thing and we can't be all of those things, all the time. I'm finding that my peace with this will mean involving different aspects of me in different situations, and that's okay.

   This is what growth is about to me. These are my thoughts through a microscope. This is my year to savour what I have, and understand what it really means to me. Day 38, in the bag.