Colony of Losers- Fuck Stigma and Mental Illness, I'm like 25

Surviving your Quarter Life Crisis and becoming an adult

Dinner With Friends

Posted on | July 10, 2017 | No Comments

I’m in my incredibly tiny room where the white walls look blood splattered (odd art project of a previous tenant) and everything is covered in books and ginger candy wrappers. To call it claustrophobic would be a compliment. I live in this closet-sized space for the purpose of saving money so that my girlfriend can move to Toronto and not have to worry about money as she sets up her business as a massage therapist. Until then I’ll live in this blood-splattered womb, my excellent roommates being my only consolation.

I’m currently on the phone with my friend Winter Tekenos-Levy.

We’re talking about a story we’re working on together. Winter wrote a first draft and I tried my hand at a second. It’s a comedy where a girl has to tell her boyfriend she has an STD.

We go over her notes. They are small but important. Winter is an amazing writer with a talent for comedy.

Winter and I became close friends at a writer’s group hosted by our friend Matt Corluka. She wrote the funniest stories in the group and I’m pretty addicted to anyone who can make me laugh like she does.

The first time I met her was at a producer’s conference. I noticed a placard on her shirt that said ‘development’ and proceeded to pitch her a series I made up on the spot. She looked at me quite calmly and said, “Dude, I’m in the same conference as you. We met this morning.”

A week before the phone call with Winter, we got drunk at my birthday party and decided we should work on something together. I liked her STD comedy and wanted to play with it. My writing partner Elias would direct. Our friend Tabitha would produce. This phone call is about finalizing the script so we can go into pre-production.

I love talking to Winter; we have a shared obsession with the obscene, Kanye West and Pusha T.

We start chitchatting about ideas we have and different stories we had gone over at the writer’s group.

She tells me that she has decided to abandon her sex worker sitcom.

“The more I thought about it,” she says, “the less funny it was probably going to be. I mean if it was realistic… and I like don’t actually know about any of that stuff. Pretty fucking privileged.”

“I can see how it might be a little dark,” I agree.

“Just a little,” Winter concedes.

And then I remember a conversation I had with my girlfriend about professional cuddlers, which at the time seemed a little bit like sex workers lite. “It’d be cool to do a show about like a professional cuddler. It’s a real job. You ever look into it?”

She immediately begins looking it up on her laptop. Quickly my obsession with professional cuddlers becomes hers.

In the conversation it becomes clear that this could be a web series. I suggest mimicking the structure of High Maintenance where each episode focuses on the client instead of the cuddler. She points me towards a video online of a man who hires a sex worker to perform the mundane tasks of a girlfriend such as getting into arguments about cereal and telling him that she loves him. I suggest getting in touch with our friend Elias. After all, we did have that blood oath thing at my birthday party.

“Call that motherfucker,” says Winter.

I get a text from my girlfriend.

“I gotta go. Gotta call the girl.”

“Give her a cuddle.”

“Call. She doesn’t live here.”

“Phone cuddle then.”

“Tell your boyfriend whaddup from Kimber.”

“Will do.”

By the end of the second episode of Just Cuddle, both Winter and I will have broken up with our long-term partners.

We’ll have breakfasts and bar nights to celebrate our newfound independence and we’ll get closer. We’ll check in with each other for updates during that time where you go a little insane, just to make sure the other person is doing okay. And we’ll celebrate together when life is no longer about being heartbroken.

And she’ll star in Just Cuddle. And we’ll depend on her excellent notes. But that happens later.

For now, just relish in how a comedy about an STD sowed the seeds for a show called Just Cuddle. 

****

Elias Campbell and I are in Trinity Bellwoods.

Characteristically we aren’t drinking beers, playing Hacky Sack or smoking weed. My laptop is balanced on my thighs and I’m overdressed for the atypically sunny April weather. Elias is munching on a Clif Bar and leaned up against a tree.

We’re writing.

First let me explain that my best friend looks a lot like Justin Trudeau and acts nothing like him. Elias’ face is an extremely easy-to-read book. When he likes a person he beams. When he smells bullshit in a conversation, you can see him fighting back a scowl. He’s down to the bones honest and drawn to people with a similar temperament. When I first became friends with him I was eight months jobless and feeling like I was destined to become a failure. Working with him changed what I thought I was capable of.

It’s a rare friend who can make you regain confidence in yourself.

Elias is giving me notes on the STD comedy and pretending like he cares. He wants to make something and this might do. But what he wants more than anything is to get started on something big; something that’ll really test him and push him to become better at his craft. He’s excited about Just Cuddle, which I informed him of via text the night before. He’s so excited he’s about to name it.

“I think we have to make a choice,” says Elias. “If we want to start shooting something I’d rather do the professional cuddling thing you were talking about. It has a great hook and I can already sort of see it.”

When Elias has a vision, he’s difficult to refuse. You can almost feel it in his tone. Something is happening and you want to be a part of it.

“Given any thought to a name?” he asks.

I shrug. The Cuddler was my first idea. I think a serial killer on The Shield was called that. So that’s probably an association you don’t want to have.

“Just Cuddle,” he says. He smiles at me when he says it. Like it’s a joke. Like it’s so good I can’t refuse it.

“Like it’s not sex,” I say. “Just Cuddles.”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

“Just Cuddle,” I say again. I don’t quite know how to explain it mouth-feel wise, but it feels like a thing. Like a real thing.

And as hipsters bond over PBR on the first nice day after a long winter, we talk about what we want Just Cuddle to be. And in the conversation we decide that we want to tell stories about people trying to break out of their loneliness and connect. We want the stories to be about what compels someone to reach out to a professional cuddler.

As we talk I type down notes.

“We need to make this soon,” says Elias. “You think we could be shooting this in like six weeks?”

I nod my head as if to say anything’s possible. Elias takes that for full by in. He doesn’t let an idea for a film stay just an idea for long.

Winter texts me.

She’s down for meeting us for dinner.

We get into Elias’ car and drive to Salt Wine Bar. There’s no parking. His frustration with this situation amuses me to no end.

When I break up with my girlfriend in a few months, Elias will help me find a new apartment. He will help me put my IKEA furniture together. And we’d work on the series until it was a real thing. And in a time I was particularly lonely, I’d be able to focus my energy in writing.

Making pain into beauty is pretty much the only fair trade you get from dedicating your life to making art. I don’t really know how people live with their pain without being able to make something out of it. Writing has both healed me and distanced me from everyone in my life as my addiction to it deepened until my sources of pain and pleasure dried up. So determined that my life would just be about art, I have sometimes gone without people for weeks at a time. With Elias, I realized that with the right people I could make better art than I could by myself.

That’s later. Right now Elias is cursing the parking lot for having no empty spaces.

****

Dinner is ridiculously expensive. Like insane.

We order everything and it’s fucking delicious. If you haven’t gone to Salt Wine Bar you should really consider trying it. It can be quite affordable if you don’t act like you’re out for your last meal before the gallows.

I don’t really remember what we talked about. Most likely Winter teased Elias because she does that every time. Elias and Winter have a relationship based on being almost total opposites. Winter is funny and extroverted and has this incredible silliness she’s waiting to unleash. Elias is far more serious and is a self-styled curmudgeon, but Winter has this way of making him laugh like a child. And when Winter seeks out wise counsel, she turns to Elias. Though if I remember the night correctly, she mainly just made fun of his beard.

I think we briefly talked about the series and possible deadlines, but mostly we just talked.

And I remembered a brunch we had months before where Winter and Elias were talking about how scared they were that they weren’t going to accomplish anything in their lives. How desperately they wanted to get into a writer’s room. And I remember thinking they’re so young…

They still have dreams.

I had gotten into the habit of convincing myself that my dream would just be living in the same city as the girl I loved. And I argued with myself why it wasn’t important to be a writer. I don’t know how the math came together but it basically came down to this: If I wanted to become an adult, I had to give up my goal of making films. Which was not altogether different math than my ex-girlfriend had. Where she would have to move to a new city she didn’t like and start from the beginning all over again with no client list and little in the way of savings.

And at this table, I could feel the sense of fear and malaise exiting my body. I wasn’t going to accept that I couldn’t have what I wanted. It was there that I laid the groundwork for the break-up several months later. When I decided I couldn’t leave Toronto and she decided she couldn’t move here. It was at that table I decided I was going to take a chance and risk it all with my friends. And a great woman would leave my life as a result. And we’d both go in the directions we were meant to go.

Sometimes doing what you love is more important than being with someone who loves you.

She’d use her talents as a massage therapist to make people able to enjoy their life without pain. I’d use my pain to make something I’m incredibly proud of with the people around this table.

****

On April 5th we released the trailer for Just Cuddle. On April 18th, we released the first episode.

Three days before that, Winter will leave her job at a television production company to put it all on the line to get into a writer’s room. She loves the people she works with but she wants to pursue her dream. They told her they believed in her. Very few people are able to risk everything for what they want most in the world.

But that’s Winter.

A friend I get to have dinner with. Someone who inspired me to be better.

Tune in to see her knock your fucking socks off.

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Extras

Posted on | July 10, 2017 | No Comments

There are moments when you ask unreasonable things from people because you don’t have a choice. Things need to be done and you can’t do them alone. In these moments people who are basically extras in the story of your life can step up to the plate and become something more. In this case they needed to be extras in an episode of Just Cuddle. Tomorrow. When we shoot. FUCK. FUCK.

It’s Friday, January 22nd, 2016.

There are about a hundred Facebook message bubbles on the screen of my laptop. Each of them begins with something like “I haven’t talked to you in a while and this is going to sound weird but I could really use your help.” Many of these people apparently no longer live in Toronto, or have children they are supposed to spend time with. I have gone down the list from friends to acquaintances to one-timers. Charlotte was a one-timer.

As in I had met her once, at her birthday party, had a good conversation but never really got to know her. In fact, I’d been a bit of an asshole to a friend of hers at that party. I expected little. She said she had a meeting with her writer’s group. But she continued typing. She said she would tell them she wasn’t coming. For no reason at all she decided to help me.

This is the beginning of a very strange story where I was an extra in someone else’s life and made a good friend. But that hasn’t happened yet. I need more extras. So I go back to Facebook without realizing the next part of our story will begin there as well.

****

I’m at work and a Facebook post catches my eye.

Charlotte posts about a dear friend who died. This was the friend I’d been a dick to at that party. As a result of this strange coincidence, I messaged her.

At the end of this conversation she told me that she was having a housewarming party that weekend. She said I should come. I pretended I had a social occasion I had to attend that day. I’m not always a party guy and oftentimes I need to decompress during my weekends and catch up on writing. And honestly, I was vaguely ashamed that I had been a dick to her friend who had died. I try not to be a dick, and that night I was.

Saturday arrives and I’m bored. And I remember the housewarming party I was invited to. I pick up alcohol and I head to her place. It’s an impulse.

Maybe I’d tell some jokes. Maybe strangers would find me funny.

I can’t really say why I went but I did.

****

You have the vaguest outline of Charlotte. Let me provide a few details so you can imagine her properly. Her nose wrinkles when she laughs. A good joke will shake her whole body until she has trouble catching her breath. She’s scarily smart for 23 and has a way with words and ability for total focus that makes her attention like a spotlight for the person she’s talking to.

She is standing on her balcony taking a moment of air when I arrive. She isn’t wearing a coat. I wonder if she’s cold. The thought passes.

I walk up the stairs and enter her new home. Her roommate takes me into the kitchen and smashes ice for me. I think he does this with a hammer. And I’m having a drink at a party.

There’s an ironic boundary in most parties. Great loss takes away that irony. You can’t pretend life isn’t important when you’ve had someone irreplaceable taken from you.

Immediately people are talking to me.

No one is willing to let me feel like a stranger. One by one I get into intense and friendly conversations with people who are in the mood for small talk. Which I can provide. Drunkenly, I ramble about Just Cuddle and what the series is going to be like. They listen because right now it’s a little too painful for them to talk about what they’re going through. I make party friends. I earn them through jokes. I’m feeling pretty fucking good about myself. Even though I understand I don’t really belong here.

Everyone in this room is trying to be strong for everyone else. There’s a hierarchy of pain and they are trying to figure out where they fit in it. You can see them investigating, trying to determine who was closest, who’s the most hurt, and direct their attention to helping that person. Everyone’s a little broken and it’s hard to know who is the worst off.

On the wall are what were once blank canvases. On the table next to it is paint. As the night continues people will leave conversations, grab a brush and begin to paint. An art director paints a particularly lovely rose that reminds me of Salvador Dali, possibly because my own knowledge of art is incredibly limited. What appears on the wall is surrealistic graffiti and stick figures. Whatever it was, I’m guessing it just felt good to paint.

It’s been a long time since I was last in a room with thirty people who had their hearts ripped out. It takes very little for me to realize that I’m a tourist at what is essentially a wake. This wasn’t the wake; they had done that earlier in the week with his parents. There aren’t really words that can adequately bring me into that experience.

I can sense the currents of agony underneath the laughter. Every hour or so someone goes onto the balcony and cries. Someone always follows them and holds them. Often it’s Charlotte. She has a way with people and a laugh that’s infectious and people need that right now. Being under her attention is protective. There’s warmth there that makes people feel safe and a sense that whatever the fuck happens, Charlotte can handle it.

And there’s a moment I remember from that very strange night. I had gotten used to the party’s manic rhythms of intimacy, quick confidences and emotional outbursts. In a way it was freeing being in a place where everything mattered so much.

I was out on the balcony with Charlotte and everyone left for a minute. Most likely to take a break from the cold. And I offered her a hug. She took it and we stayed like that for about two minutes. Clichés jumped through my head. Speeches formed and it all sounded so fucking stupid it couldn’t pass through my lips. I could feel her shaking with suppressed tears.

“I gotchu” I said.

She hugged me tighter.

“But I don’t even know you…”

And strangely I feel like that was the point. That was what I offered. Alone in the party of loving, brilliant people, I hadn’t had my heart torn out of my chest. I wasn’t grieving. She didn’t have to worry about what she said or did or how miserable she felt because I was okay. It wasn’t going to hurt me. I could be there for her because I was just an extra in her life, a tourist in her tragedy.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

And I held her tighter.

I walked into someone’s life as a stranger. Being there for no reason and realizing that that’s what life is about when it matters. How good it felt holding her and knowing I had something I could give her. How after those two minutes, she wasn’t an extra. She was a friend.

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MOMENTOUS BULLSHIT: CHAPTER 1: RFP

Posted on | July 10, 2017 | No Comments

We pride ourselves on the idea that a handful of reactions in the right moments will prove our humanity.

I unfortunately have been living on planet bullshit too long.

My immediate response is to explain the silver lining.

“So we can enjoy sunny days without worrying about skin cancer,” I hear myself say.” I don’t have to worry about what I eat. I don’t have to eat handfuls of vitamins or do crossword puzzles under the naïve hope that I won’t develop Alzheimers. I don’t have to look both ways when I cross the street.  I don’t have to wonder if my shrivelled ovaries can produce a child. I don’t have to worry about finding true love.

My  mouth continues to move, “Humanity didn’t destroy itself. Isn’t that….. something?”

The clients stare at me like I’ve lost my mind.

I should have known something was wrong. They didn’t touch their muffins. They haven’t taken a sip of their coffee. They don’t give a shit that we’re offering them fully distilled water.

This isn’t a joke.

The clients work for a secret part of the UN related to outerspace research.  Somehow connected to the UN security council.

“Yeah, so that’s not exactly what we’re looking for,” says Ted. At the beginning of this conversation Ted explained that his coworker Edward was a professional torturer and that he had a list of everyone I loved.

Everyone they assume I love to be more accurate.

“We don’t need help breaking the news, “ says Ted. “In fact you aren’t going to be allowed to tell anyone not working on the project. And they’ll have to talk to Edward. To makes sure they understand the consequences.”

You might not be familiar with the term RFP or Request for Proposal.

In the last days of humanity we created this horrible thing called Capitalism. The idea was that your efforts would be rewarded and wealth would be distributed based on merit. Instead 85 people owned the rest of the world. To justify this insanity we created this thing called advertising. Its purpose was to make everyone stupid and sort of crazy so they could be manipulated into following a system that made them slaves.  Which is why we called the companies driving this system brands. Like the brands we once used to tattoo slaves to identify the slaves as our properties.

These brands were large companies people like me created personalities for.

When a brand or much more likely an advertising agency was seeking out ideas for a campaign they sent out a request for proposal from all of their vendors.

Advertising agencies are more like the Mafia than Mad Men. They don’t come up with ideas. They sell their taste and haggling ability rather than creative talent. They’re usually a real pain in the ass.

This particular deal was client direct and included a rather extensive Non Disclosure Agreement.

Ed turns to Ted in frustration. “Explain one more time. She’s in shock. ”

The anger comes surging forward but doesn’t pass my lips. The only physical clue is my shaking hands. Which they probably put down to nervous fear. Not years of arrogance that makes me ignore the dire consequences of this meeting and focus exclusively on the fact that I’m being Mansplained.

“I think I understand.”

“Of course you do, “says Edward. Edward grins accommodatingly. You’d think the diplomat, not the torturer would be the one playing good cop. “Tell her one more time, Ted.”

“Ok, Ed. C16000 is going to collide with the earth’s surface in little less than nine months,” Ted reiterates. “It’s now 99.9% going to hit earth and kill every living thing. There is no hope.”

A small thought niggles in the back of my brain.

I know I shouldn’t ask because someone much more qualified than me must have watched this movie as a child and suggested this as a possible solution to the problem.

“Have we mobilized NASA to maybe land on the Asteroid and nuke it?”

In case you happen to be reading this far in the future the movie I’m referencing is called Armaggedon. In it two actors, Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis, saved the world by using their mining skills to drive into an asteroid, place a bomb and made the asteroid split into to two pieces. For some reason another movie called Deep Impact came out the same year and they had an almost identical plan. I can’t imagine that is a coincidence.

Ed looks at Ted.

“Again?” asks Ted.

“It apparently was a culturally important movie,” says Ed.

“So…?” I ask.

Ted glares at me for a second.

“Remember how I said there was no hope?” says Ted.  “None. I’m not even going to go into how the idea of splitting an asteroid can’t happen. Ok I will. In order to blow up an asteroid you have to make a weapon that would create more energy than the sun. The SUN! Do you know how that would have to be?” he asks. I am about to Google it. I don’t.  “You detonate an atomic weapon on an asteroid you now have a radioactive asteroid.  Do you know how much worse that is? Much, much, much worse. And why we would go to looking for some sort of plan to destroy the asteroid? Don’t you think we would consult astrophysicist, military experts, NASA astronauts if we thought there was a possible solution where we could intervene and save humanity?? Why would I look for help from someone in advertising of all things?”

I nod. That does sound hopeless.

“So the world is going to end?” I ask.

Ted and Ed nod simultaneously.

There is awkward silence where I try to let this feeling hit me. There is a warmth in my chest. A slightly heaviness underneath my eyes. No tears are coming. And there’s the anger again.

I’m not a good satellite for the signals my heart is sending to my brain. All I feel is overstimulated and hot. Thankfully I don’t care about these people. They can’t be too disappointed by my lack of a reaction.

“I’m not some person in advertising.” I say. I don’t need to point to the awards on my wall, the bags under my eyes or the title under my door. “You want something big. Bigger than anyone else can do. What do you want me to do?”

Ed grins. It’s paternal and admiring. The psycho is proud.

“We want you to distract people from what’s happening,” says Ted.

“Like a sex scandal?” I ask.

“Bigger. There is the small chance this asteroid goes right past us and the human race gets to live on,” says Ed.  “So not so much no hope. But no reasonable hope. We don’t trust people to react reasonably to this news.  Rioting, genocide, mass suicide. We’d like to avoid it. So we want you to assemble a team to make them think about something else.”

I nod my head.

I feel laughter forming in the center of my chest. Little hands tickling me from the inside. I push that laughter into a tiny box that I’ll open when I’m alone.

“Tell her the other part,” says Edward.

“We want you to create a happy ending for the human race.”

I close my eyes.

For some reason all I can think about are joyous polar bears drinking Coke as the polar ice caps melt.  A billion hands holding an IPHONE reaching up towards the sky to get one last selfie. The Kardashians finally silent. God taking his thumbs out of his bleeding ears.

“So you want me to find the meaning of human life?”

“We don’t need you to get that deep,” says Ted. “We just need you to make a great advertising campaign. Do you think you can do that?”

I stare at the windows.

I can see them tensing.

I stand up and pace.

Ed looks embittered. They’re watching me very carefully. Like I’m not the first person they offered this job too. Like the last person got to this point and flung themselves out a window.

“I’ll think about it.”

“It’s still a request for proposal. So you need to put something together.”

I’d ask or what but I know the answer. If my idea didn’t get picked I’d be killed.

“What’s the deadline?” I ask.

“EOD Tuesday,” replies Ted. “We’re looking for emotional resonance. Something people can really connect with.

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Momentous Bullshit: QI: PROLOGUE

Posted on | July 10, 2017 | No Comments

Shortly after I refused to accept her collect call my sister killed herself.  It was a particularly busy time of year for me.

Q1.

In my business you can’t afford to get behind.

So while my sister is dying in a bathtub I’m pitching a client about how their android technology could have a real brand story. They weren’t just a cellphone technology company, they were a future company, they were a connection company.

The tagline is, “No one ever has to be too far away again.”

I use an adorable white baby to illustrate my point.

Naturally the client was very impressed. There’s a certain feeling you get when you have an audience in the palm of your hand and you don’t mean a word of what you say. It’s a little like the first lemming must feel before it hits the ground.

So imagine the water in the bath tubs going from translucent to sticky red as a tear trickles down the eyes of an android phone developer.

Handshakes are distributed evenly across the room. The deal is closed in the room.

My sister’s lips are turning blue.

Mine are Pearl’s “Femme Fatale.”

Her blood drips out of the bath tub. She left the water running. When she was a kid she’d always do that.  Which means it goes onto her floor. Which means it goes through her thin ceiling and blood rains on her neighbor’s dining room table. Landing directly on her Thanksgiving diner.

Someone goes to my office and grabs champagne bottles that we keep specifically chilled for moments exactly like this one. I popped it. With my fingers. I learned a trick in Paris when I was a kid.

This tastes like God let you into his private stock.

Girlish laughter in tones I long ago crafted for moments like this.

Come with me to my perfectly organized desk. It’s a stand up. I rarely sit down during the day and nothing is more ergonomic than standing. I have an ellipitical bike in my office to make sure that I don’t become sedentary and energy-less.

Anyways I got two phone calls in about five minutes.

The first was from the president of my company. He’s escstatic. Handsome, useless and rich.

My cheeks blush as I listen to his British accent formulate as many big words as he can to give me the impression he’s my teacher and I’m his student.

The condescension doesn’t matter.

All my hard work is going to pay off.

He uses the word Creative Director.

I don’t feel prideful. I feel proud of him.

He finally realizes that I’m the best employee he’s likely to ever have. I don’t have to wait for him to have a heart attack to get a promotion my company doesn’t typically give to women.

And for the briefest of moments the anger that animates my everyday life disappears. Just for a few seconds. My life is about to begin. And strangely I feel happy tears sliding down my cheek.

You earned it. I’m very proud of you.

Goodbye, sir. Thank you, sir.

I hang up the landline.

I put in my wireless headphones.

I put on Beethoven’s Fifth.

I turn up the music all the way. So it gets into every part of my brain. So I feel as calm and happy as a person can possibly feel.

I turn on my office fan to make sure that no one can hear me sobbing. I feel the most intense sense of relief. And I can’t stop sobbing. It feels too good.

There’s been this knot in my stomach that the doctor recently diagnosed as an ulcer. This tension that I won’t be able to provide an equal sign between all the hours of suffering I’ve had to put into get this far.

The equal sign exists.

It was all worth it.

I receive the second phone call. Directly to my wireless headphones. Beethoven’s Fifth disappears.

A detective appears, shakey, awkward, unprofessional.

It’s about your sister. You were her Emergency Contact.

And here lies the mystery.

I stop crying.

You’d think it was shock. But it isn’t. I waited for weeks, months and years and it didn’t come.

That was the last time I can remember feeling anything.

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They Had To Wait

Posted on | July 10, 2017 | No Comments

Most of the time you’re all part of one big happy family when you wait for the bathroom.

You’re impatient but when you’re outside on those doors you’re all playing for the same team.

When your time comes up you leave the nest. Become your own person and the source of inconvenience to every single person in that line behind you.

People aren’t sympathetic to the person keeping them from using the bathroom when they need it.

“What’s taking them so long?” someone will loudly wonder.

You’ll agree with them.

The person inside the bathroom is probably a murderer. An awful person doing an awful thing with no consideration for the rest of the world. You’ll forget all those times when going to the bathroom took you a couple minutes. In the line you’re a 30 second person. A member of a union of reasonable bathroom users. Waiting for pissing Hitler to do his business.

Once you make it in you’re the enemy.

You become Pissing Hitler and the clock starts ticking.

It’s fair. It’s the way things are.

And often you don’t give a shit about the assholes banging on the doors like a couple of maniacs. You waited. You deserve this. This is your time.

You hate the people who desperately struggle with a door knob that will not make any difference. You think they’re impatient and idiotic.

Don’t they realize this is a careful business that needs attention paid?

We all know these moments.

This isn’t your ordinary bathroom war.

At first there is a joking irony in the line and I exercise kind compassion.

I note that someone was behind me. I was sitting and he was standing and he made the decision to go to the bathroom first.

It’s his turn.

I let him go in front of me. He thanks me with his eyes.

We wait for a bit.

His eyes lose their friendly shimmer. He becomes troubled. He has much to attend to.

The change in the line’s temperament is probably my fault.

It’s also fair to say that an adult should be able to take notice of an obvious line of people waiting to use the bathroom.

See there were trailblazers. Thoughtleaders in disruption. Who pretended there wasn’t a line and needed to be reminded.

The first of the trailblazers bolts through the line with no awareness, assuming a bunch of strangers are congregating near the doors because they like the view and moves for the opening bathroom door like an Olympic sprinter.

“Hey,” I say, first harshly then modulating my tone to be more playful and Pee Herman like. “There’s a line. BEEP! BEEP!”

She startles. Stares at me. Shocked by the cartoonish warning. I see her momentarily fight back a wave of shame. My attempt to be cute has backfired. Hatred glimmers in her brown and white eyeballs.

“I didn’t notice the line,” she says.

I say nothing. I just beam at her like a little baby angel. I believe her. That’s what my face says. Even though my heart knows my face is lying.

“I wasn’t going to skip the line. I just didn’t notice it.”

This is untrue but I don’t really care. She clearly would have walked through the door and into the bathroom. She doesn’t give a shit about democracy.

People are unreasonable when they have full bladders. Maybe this kind looking frazzled woman has to take a huge shit and can’t wait. Maybe she is in this coffee shop for this express purpose. She’s also in a line of people least likely to have sympathy for her. Nobody stands in line for the bathroom unless they have to use it. She may be fighting a war but there’s artillery fire everywhere.

Welcome to hell, lady. Welcome to hell.

“Totally,” I say. “Sorry.”

Easy to concede defeat.

My first line friend makes his way into the bathroom.

We go back to waiting. My first enemy gives a stretch, lets go of the tension and gets into fourth or fifth position in line.

I’m next.

All I have to do is wait a little longer.

I will not be visibly impatient.

Until a second early 30s woman walks past the line and starts banging on a door. Call her Jenny.

“Yo,” I say. “There’s a line.”

Maybe I shouldn’t have made the same mistake so shortly after the first time. This time Jenny explodes. She doesn’t like the yo.

“You weren’t standing,” says Jenny.  Her next words come rapid fire and vehement. “I didn’t see a line. Jesus.”

Someone behind her notes that he is also in line. That there are five people who are waiting. She is sixth.

She keeps her focus on me.

“You don’t have to yell at people like that,” she says.

I didn’t yell.

I’m not tempted to. The door opens.

My time is at hand.

“My turn,” I say, full of joy and celebration.

I go inside. I close the door. I check the stall. Nothing gross has happened.

I sit.

I hear her outside.

“Who the fuck was that guy!” she exclaims. “Like I would just butt in line if he was standing. Why was he sitting?” she ask.

The first trailblazer is on Jenny’s side unfortunately.

“What is he the fucking line police?” demands the Trailblazer.

“And that voice!” she shouts.

What’s wrong with my voice?

“Holy shit was he a prick!” agrees Jenny.

My feelings are moderately hurt.

There’s also a strange pressure in the powder keg of hatred a few feet away. These people wish me harm while I’m in such a delicate state.

I ignore them. But I know it’ll be a long time before I accomplish anything. I can’t concentrate. This isn’t going to happen. I get up. Maybe I should just go.

“What’s with him? Why is it taking him so long? Jesus Christ.”

“I know.”

Fuck them.

I pull my phone out of my pocket.

They broke the Geneva Convention of Bathroom wars. Keep your complaints quiet. The person in the bathroom is in charge. You have your snarky good humor. They have a door that locks.

I scrolled through my Facebook feed. Jay Dahl posted a link to a New Yorker article called “The Uninhabitable Earth”. It was about the horrors of global warming and how soon we will feel the consequences of our mismanagement of the earth. It was about seven thousand words long and was profoundly disturbing.

They were rude.

They were spiteful.

They had to wait.

 

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A Writer Like My Dad

Posted on | July 10, 2017 | No Comments

I think I wanted to become a writer because it seemed like the simplest way to become my dad when I grew up.

My dad’s great.

They call him Stephen “The Cuban” Kimber.

For decades he inspired journalism students to take the news seriously and helped them careers in an industry where that was still possible. He’s a quiet man who loves stirring up shit and has been responsible for exposing a good many scandals local and international.  He is a pinko commie rabble rouser who somehow temporarily changed the international relations between America and Cuba before Trump decided to fuck things up again. He doesn’t stop trying to become a better writer or a better person. He’s still hungry for that next big story.  He’s always working on a new book or journalistic investigation into government and corporate corporation. There will be no real retirement for Stephen Kimber. Because he’ll never stop being that kid that sat down at a typewriter and realized he could change the world by paying attention to it.

He talks slow while I talk fast.

We look nothing alike. He’s got dark hair that is sprouting a little more silver everytime I see him. He’s got a nose that would indicate he was my Jewish parent (he isn’t) and I have got the nose of an Aryan conqueror (my Jewish mother’s) . We don’t have the same eyes. The only common characteristic is that we both maintain a strangely naive face of a child. Like the world still hits us with wonder. Like we never really grew up and occassionally put on a serious face to hide it.

To say I was attached to him as a child was an understatement.

Wherever he would go, I would try to follow. Which is funny because my dad is easily startled and also a little unaware of his surroundings. He’d be working out on the Norda-Track, and I would knock on the door to his office. He’d be lost in the music he was listening to or the book he was reading and I would say his name and he would jump and make that surprised sound where you spit out the breath you’d just taken in. After a few questions he’d calm down and asked me what’s up.

He listened to me talk a lot.

I talk a lot now but as a kid I literally never shut up.

He was patient and he’d take what I said seriously. My first book was called GamesMaster’s Games and was essentially Mortal Kombat with different character names. One of the villains names was Stanco. Times Magazine labelled it a masterpiece.

He printed out copies and I gave them to all my family members as a Christmas gift.

We got a dog named Gabby. She liked to go for walks after dinner and my dad would take me with them to Point Pleasant Park.

I’d ramble about my latest book. Which were usually well outside of my life experience. One was about a schizophrenic mafia boss who went to war with his enemies and an alternate personality. Which was essentially my experience in grade 4.  The plots were very complicated. And I felt like I needed to tell him every single beat of the story and he’d point out design flaws and encourage me to actually sit down and write it.

I did.

He’d edit my books and I’d put the books on my shelf and he’d put them in a box I would someday look at and marvel at how much absolute shit I’d made him read.

I recently discovered a letter in my email from my father. It was 12 pages. Actually 12 pages.

I think it’s from 2005.  He was writing to me about my book For Four. Which was a fantasy novel. That’s plot could be boiled down to a simple observation: “I smoked pot. A lot of it.”

The letter is both complimentary and honest.

He praises my attempt to create a world with as many characters as the bible but notes its a little difficult to follow.

He not only read every word of the 350 page book. He also took extensive notes. He then sat down at his computer and wrote this email. Knowing that when I got it my heart would break.

He explained that the novel I’d spent three years on should be abandoned. That there was too much going on and fixing it would take too much of my time. He said there were flashes of what a great writer I could be but the book should be abandoned. So that I could learn the fundamentals.

I was 20. And I wasn’t ready to hear it.

I also lacked the perspective to understand what it’d be like to send a letter like that.

I’ve read pieces written by other writers who deserved letters like this. Giving feedback is a tremendous responsibility.  Sometimes I sent the email and sometimes I didn’t. An honest and hurtful criticism is a kindness you give someone if you truly believe they can do better. My dad always believed I could do better.

I wasn’t always ready to do better. I spent three more years on the book and this time he asked to read it. Knowing that I wasn’t showing anyone. And that I desperately needed to hear something positive.

At 25 I finished the book and quickly fell into a six month long depression.

As I started this descent he asked to read the latest draft of the book.

Which I had edited and worked on for years and he wrote me another long letter.

This time about how proud of me he was that I had spent the time and made something that had such beautiful moments. He told me I needed to write a query to submit to writing agents and that he’d edit it.

We did and no one ever responded.

But he told me I should write something else. That he’d read it. That I was getting close.

In the midst of my depression I wrote a 10,000 story about my girlfriend as a unicorn.

He helped me edit it. He took me for doctor’s visits. He waited for me to start talking his ear off again with my story ideas.  Time passed. I got better.

My desire to be a writer took me away from Halifax. I moved to Toronto.

We talk on the phone. Sometimes for hours at a time about the stories we are working on. As I have gotten older he’s started sharing his own ideas and getting my advice. He’s always a little excited to tell me about it. The thoughts have spent a lot of time brewing in his head and there aren’t a lot of people you can talk about the places you go in your head. Because it really is something only other neurotic writers can understand.

We share our lives and our feelings and what we’ve been thinking about. We say we love eachother at the end of every phone call.

But our most important conversations are about things that never actually happened.

We mainly talk about stories we are working on. It’s like a secret language we have.  A way to say I know that you go to a place no one else goes to and sometimes I want to bring you there with me because you’re important.

I talk about a lot of things with my dad. When times are bad they’re practical and he gives me advice.

When times are good and even when they’re really bad we talk about stories.

A lot of writers feel uncomfortable when they sit down and start typing. Perfectionism hits before they can really even dip their feet into the water.  The process gets caught up in the result and they get frozen. They need a drink. They look at the blank page and they get up from their desk.

I don’t.

Writing is a place of peace for me.

I think a lot of that is because when I sit down and write it brings back both those conversations with my dad. Where I can say anything and he would listen. Where anything is possible if you have the courage to imagine it. I think that in a lot of ways I’m the best person I can be at that table, with my fingers on that keyboard.

I know I have a lot to learn and I can get there. That this process is going to break my heart sometimes and that’s going to make me better.

A place where I have the curiosity of a boy and the bravery of a man.

We’ve talked about a million things but when we talk about writing it’s not really about sitting down and typing, editing, outlining or getting published. But a way to live. To fully commit to the beauty of being alive, making mistakes and daring to connect with people. To know the world is so vast, it’s impossible to understand it in its totality. But that a person can be imbued with the same force of gravity that moves planets and galaxies. If you love something enough to try to understand it you can become a part of a force that moves everything.

A force that feels almost unimaginably powerful.

A force that feels like being seven years old and going for a walk in Point Pleasant Park, holding my dad’s hand.

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Extrapolating Raindrops To Understand Oceans

Posted on | July 9, 2017 | No Comments

We are walking and talking and laughing and realizing that we aren’t the same sort of people as we take a quick tour of Toronto in a large pack of common friends.

She’s really nice. I listen a little more than I normally do. I ask her a question. Then another question digging deeper. She likes things I don’t. Which is briefly fascinating. She’s smart, kind and knows about stuff I don’t normally have any interest in.

We reach the zenith of our possible connection to each other which happens to be polite conversation.

Toronto is an excellent Darwinian experiment in connection.

Because if you don’t really, really enjoy a stranger you can make zero effort and never see them again for the rest of your life. In fact getting to know someone means violating many well established Toronto rules. You can meet them by swiping right on their picture.  You can meet them at a bar or party when they smile at you and give you permission to do so. But these aren’t really how you get to know someone. You get to know them because you choose to.

We might talk a few more times in our lives but it likely won’t be a choice we actively made.

Very earlier on in our conversation I subconsciously seize on the one thing we have vaguely in common.

She is a fraternal twin. My nieces are fraternal twins.

Ergo I should tell her about the twins.

To show I understand her people.

Talking about loving my nieces is a good social move and also a reflection of a very important truth.

They sort of blow me away.

My sister and her husband love each other deeply. They decided to have kids. Who they in turn love deeply. Their names are Hannah and Avery. Hannah looks like a Cherub out of a classical painting with chubby baby cheeks and a matching angelic smile. She runs head first into things and that often means literally slamming her head into things. Avery is more quiet, and like all children has the occassional health problem. For her it’s a problems with child hood asthma. Which will most likely be something she forgets about when she becomes older but for now can be the object of a great deal of worry.

I remember coming home a few years ago for Christmas and going to the Emergency room to visit Avery.

My sister was patient and funny. Avery got her puffer and the steroids filled her with surges of insane dizzying adrenaline.  She raced around the hospital in her little hospital dress, and devoured her treat, a pink popsicle talking a mile a minute.

. This particular hospital visit was a very low grade emergency. A typical journey they’ve taken a dozen times.Like all children, ocassionally they’ll get sick and the level of fear will multiply. My sister will handle it. As all parents do. Quietly, keeping their fear mostly to themselves.

This was my first journey like this. I wasn’t scared. I just noticed how when Avery grabbed my hand I would feel it in my chest. Stopping to go for a walk with her as she explained the world as pink Popsicle drool dripped down her lips and I’d feel this feeling of love like a prayer. Like don’t let anything bad ever happen to her.   I’ve seen her just a couple times. I do backwards math. If this is what a raindrop falls like as it hits me, I tried to calculate what the ocean must feel like.

I try imagine what Emily feels when she looks at Avery in her little hospital gown. When she has to maintain a game face when things are scaring her and how she somehow blossomed into this full grown, compassionate adult human who occassionally calls me Michael instead of brat.

Only this isn’t what I have been thinking about lately. Or rather I’ve been thinking of what it must be like for Hannah when Avery gets sick.

I remember how Hannah likes to have all of her toys perfectly organized. She says that when her toys are in good working order her head feels clean.

She’s in the vicinity of four years old.

She has no problem breaking out in song and performing a dance routine from Frozen in front of absolute strangers. She likes to dangle upside down. She has learned how to climb humans as though they were a staircase.

She loves to open her arms and run at her sister.  Excited about a hug. They’re extremely close and hug at every possible opportunity.

Hannah is also aware that her sister sometimes has problems with asthma.

I don’t know what she feels exactly. I just know that she has a much smaller world that she can control. Which is ultimately those toys she has in her basement. That need to be perfectly ordered. So that her brain feels clean. I think about how much the two little girls care about eachother. How much they laugh when they’re together. And what it might feel like to love her sister that much. With a heart that is completely inexperienced. That has no concept of scale or time or how things change, break and come back together again. There is only a desire to keep the world ordered in a way adults feel and have learned to ignore. There is only an intimate knowledge that her sister and her parents and her grandparents are her world. And she wants to keep things organized. So they’re protected.

There are few people you met and instantly know there are yours. That these are people you’ll fight for. That their struggles through life will also be yours. That you won’t care that they don’t like the same things you do. You’ll love them anyway.

I think about mentioning all of this to my new friend. Who is also a twin.

I think about asking her how much she loves her sister.

I stop myself because I understand that might sound creepy. People are weird about twins in about a hundred ways I don’t want to participate in.

I ramble a bit about how much I love Hannah and Avery.

She nods her head. Probably imagining that I’m doing what people do in their tinder profiles when they post pictures of children that aren’t their own. And she’d be sort of right.

She asks a few questions.

Smiling. Playing the get to know you game.

As we experiment with getting to know eachother.

Analysing our first impressions.

Doing those calculations we all do.

As we try to add human behaviours together to decide whether this will be one of our people. If we can let go enough to let them really get to know us or if we’ll just fill out the survey questions.

It occurs to me that a lot of our people are nervous talking to strangers. Maybe they play it safe. Maybe it takes them awhile to really warm up to someone. Maybe fifty conversations in you discover that person actually was destined to be your bestfriend. Maybe it isn’t who someone is but where they are when you need them. Maybe the whole fucking thing is trying to extrapolate raindrops to understand oceans.

You go from the smallest bit of evidence and you make a decision every time you meet a stranger.

Will I get to know this person?

Maybe if given the proper chance a person who doesn’t like the same things you do can be one of your people.

Only as you get older there are less and less chances to get close to people who don’t immediately fit. Because circumstances aren’t going to force you to get to know eachother. We rarely talk to strangers. We are almost never forced to have 50 conversations with anyone.

You have to make a decision.

I do.

Maybe I’m missing out.

I doubt I’ll ever know.

 

 

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Importunate

Posted on | July 1, 2017 | No Comments

It’s record-breaking cold in Toronto.

The crew for the murder mystery web series Typo is outside facing the type of chill that makes your skin burn.

Alex Pirie-Hay is inside holding a puppy in his hands, calmly stroking its head to keep it from yapping and conceivably ruining some very important takes.

Alex is an expert audio technician and not a dog wrangler. In fact, Alex is allergic to dogs and is too polite to mention this. It should also be said that you can tell the animal is falling in love, licking his palm, lolling like a contented baby.

A contented baby that is most likely making Alex have an allergic reaction.

I’m watching him because there is something you see when you get to know Alex. He is sweet in a way that kind of breaks your heart. Like he is a person who gives everything away and doesn’t get enough back. And he is a trained sound technician petting this fucking dog to keep it quiet so it doesn’t ruin our takes.

There are a lot of places you could start with this story. I could mention the first time I worked with Alex the October before on a short film and how we stole shots on the subway as he recorded the sound, rocking his head frantically back and forth pretending to be a punk rocker just in case someone was watching.

We could start with us walking from set on the first day of Just Cuddle as he explained that for his birthday he asked his parents for a memory of his grandparents.

I start on that cold day in February because it was that picture I couldn’t get out of my head. A person who was infinitely more than he appeared, who was at a point in his life where he was settling to be less than he was. When Elias and I were breaking the story of Just Cuddle Episode 3 “Film School”, Elias said he wanted Alex to play the part of Harold, a character that bore a striking resemblance to Alex – someone who was so much more than he appeared to be. When we filmed Episode 2, Alex was the sound technician. For Episode 3, we wanted him to be the star. But we aren’t quite there yet.

****

For Alex, doing film is a way of breaking out of his shell. He likes people but he hates meeting them. He’s paralyzed by a lifelong pathological shyness that he needs to shed on set. He’s forced to talk to actors and get them to put their mikes on properly; he has to tell the director if the sound on a take has been spoiled; he needs to write emails to the producer to make sure he has all the appropriate equipment. But he feeds off of this energy where he gets to be a part of something.

We are sitting down after shooting Episode 2. Elias and I ask Alex to join us.

“So we want you to be the star of the third episode.”

Alex looks confused. It’s clear he feels as if he has misheard us. He assumes we aren’t stupid so he must have misheard us.

“What?”

Elias presses on. “We have a script that we’re really excited about. We think you’d be really great in it. As the lead. We’d love it if you read it…”

“You’re making a mistake. I’m sure I’ll love it because you guys make great things  but I’ll ruin it… I promise I’ll ruin it.”

“Can you read it? Just see if you might want to do it.”

Three days later, we get his reply:

I agonized over this. I fucking love it and want to so hard. Lovely, lovely stuff. If you’re in a pinch and can’t find anyone, count me in but in a perfect world I’d recommend someone else. I’m pulling a Harold. Maybe in five years.

P.S I relate to Harold like a horse. This guy – pooped on and pooped out. Sincerely wonderful stuff. 

P.S.S I can’t drive. err. yeah. I know, wtf get a license, on it on it, but that’s a factor too.

So we acted politely and looked for other actors.

The other actors didn’t quite get it. There is a dignity to Alex that we needed for Harold. We needed to believe this guy wasn’t a loser. This was just a person who had never won before. And someone who was about to find out that the world didn’t see him the way he thought they did.

The next part involves booze. Maybe a lot of it.

Elias and Alex were at a friend’s barbecue on a patio drinking beer.

“So we auditioned people and there was no one who really stood out for us. They were sort of approximations but not quite what we were looking for.”

(Side note: Elias does in fact use words like approximations. He is a person who perpetually has the perfect word in his mouth.)

“Hmm…. I see.”

Alex doesn’t have that gift. His words often get lost in his mouth like he believes his contribution shouldn’t be heard.

“Would you consider coming to a no-pressure callback where you read with some of the actors we’re interested in for the part of Alison? Just see how it feels?” says Elias. “If it feels comfortable, know that the success of the episode doesn’t rest on you. If it doesn’t work, it’s my fault. But trust that I’ll do everything I can to get you where you need to be to make this work.”

Alex nods, takes a sip of his beer and assumes it will end with one audition.

****

What we don’t know is that Alex had in fact acted before. His first experience with acting involved Hamlet and being yelled at. Being yelled at a lot.

The director of this particular rendition of the play didn’t like the way Alex pronounced his lines. Alex pronounced them this way because he had no fucking clue what they meant. The director didn’t bother explaining the meaning. Instead he shouted:

“Do it again!”

“She is importunate, indeed bereft, her needs will must be warranted.”

He was made to say it over and over again until the director gave up trying.

“She is importunate, indeed bereft, her needs will must be warranted.”

“No.”

“She is importunate, indeed bereft, her needs will must be warranted.”

Gradually he saw the director die inside.

He assumed this experience would be very much the same. We would give him lines, he would say them and our eyes would glaze over and we would wish we were dead.

****

Hannah Whitmore came in for her callback. Immediately there was this wonderful chemistry between Alex and her. She could see the great thing that inspired such devotion in Alex’s friends. And when she was doing her lines, he could feel that thing in himself.

In Alex’s words: “When the readings were happening, I was reading with two or three people. It was with the forest walk scene. And I remember this was the most scary part, initial time working with professional actors. I figured they’d see it. You know that I suck. That I’m a big fake and I can’t act. When Hannah started her lines this thing happened. Right away she got into character. Oh shit Jesus she’s in character and I was like I’m Alex awkward. Recommended that Hannah brought the fire whoever she ends up acting with it will go really well. 

I remember receiving the text from Elias while I was on vacation. Alex would be Harold. I remember pumping my fist and swearing. I knew if Alex was involved we would have something special.

My faith wasn’t shared by Alex.

Alex agonized over disappointing us. He lived the days before the shoot in a sheer terror. He was going to ruin it.

“She is importunate, indeed bereft, her needs will must be warranted.”

****

And on set, magic happened.

Alex explained his secret to playing Harold: “The guy is nervous in his own skin. That played well because that’s what I am. It played well on camera because it was a fact. I was shitting bricks until halfway through the last day. Somehow people thought I was good and you know I think I sort of believed them. For the first couple days afterwards I was riding high. I did this impossible thing and I didn’t fuck it up too badly.”

Alex moves cities to break out of his shell. A few weeks after we finished shooting his episode, he relocated to Vancouver.

There was a job in an art department on a series where he says the work is intense but never boring.

When I called him for this interview he was on a bus on the way to see a friend.

I pictured him on that bus. Wide eyed, taking in a new city. Ready to break out of his shell again.

I hope that people in Vancouver know what they have.

Because every single person on the set of Just Cuddle knew what happened when he got in front of the camera. And know what he is like as a friend.

Pure fucking magic.

See you soon, Alex.

We all miss you.

Sincerely,

The Just Cuddle Team

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Something more important going on in the background

Posted on | June 30, 2017 | No Comments

50 year old drink hounds howl approval as a Asian 20 something man sings cow boy blues in a voice you’d naturally would come out of a soulful black woman and a man in a dress dances with a smile like sunshine.

It’s very possible that this  conversation will be relatively insignificant in terms of the events that transpired that evening.

Something more important is going on in the background of this conversation. Just out of frame. Possibly changing two people’s lives. I didn’t know this at the time. But maybe, just maybe, there is a kiss that will start a life time.

There are two relative strangers sitting across the table from eachother. They won’t fall in love. They won’t kill eachother.

But a few words will be exchanged.

They might be important.

*****

My new friend is a handsome gay man with an animated face.

He’s the sort of person who alternates between two very different personas. One is clown like, jumping into say something outrageous, then waiting a few seconds to see whether the impact of his latest verbal barrage blew up the conversation. The other is empathetic, patient and truthful like it could save his life.

My friend introduces us, by explaining our accomplishments.

“Michael is a very talented writer,” says my friend. “Very talented. And this man is a genius director.”

I tell my new friend about Just Cuddle. He tells me about his project where he’ll get actors to perform guerrilla performances of major theatrical projections where every character will be played by 8 feet tall vaginas.

I’m not sure if he’s joking.

He isn’t.

“Theater takes itself way too seriously,” he says. “The actors will take the text seriously. But you don’t need to dress it up. To act like the words have meaning because they do. I thought of literally the most ridiculous thing that people could dress up as. Eight foot tall vaginas. And then have them do the speeches straight. Imagine crying as you listen to an eight foot tall vagina do Shakespeare’s most moving speeches.”

“Do the performers have to be really tall?” I ask.

He ponders this for a second.

“Why?”

“I mean if they are in this 8 foot costume they might fall over.”

Imagine stepping on an eight foot tall vagina in the middle of a moving monologue.

“Also like is this summer?” I ask.

He nods.

“Yeah,” he says, quickly catching on to my point. “It won’t be during like toaster time. Like on seasonable days.”

No one wants to die on the streets of Toronto as an 8 foot tall vagina.

“Fucking cool, dude,” I say.

“Thanks man.”

The band starts their set. Interrupting our bonding session.

The band plays well. My friends used to play shows like this. Where they weren’t goals outside of bringing the room to their knees. Maybe I’m reading too much into this moment at this strange cowboy bar in Chinatown. Maybe they have grand ambitions and this is a first step.

Maybe every great band plays a show for no money on a Wednesday night in a bar frequented by trendsetters who look exactly like your mother if she had a drinking problem. There is a skinny man covered in tattoos wearing a dress and dancing like the end of the world has come. He looks beautiful.

There are other patrons eagerly listening to the music. It’s a good show and it’s at the place they go to get drinks at the end of the day. Maybe the end of their day started early and they have had a few and this the reason they can’t contain their excitement.

The young soul singer has this rich, beautiful voice that hits your ears and floods your body. The drums are subtle, the way good drumming should be, like playing just enough that you can feel the rthym and not notice the drums. The bassist is controlled and his bass line is powerful and plays like he’s a partner with the bassist. More than anything the band is into it.

I get this feeling that this isn’t a part of their journey. This is their destination. They got together through a Craiglist Ad. Just something to break the routine. Seven people searching for something meaningful who decided to seek it together. They met up, had some beers, laughed a little and decided to try it.

A few practices in they realized they were good together.

What was a distraction became the thing they looked forward to every week. Every now and then they had a performance. At the beginning they didn’t tell their friends. They were nervous and maybe a little embarassed. Now they invite everyone they know. Only they are getting a little later into their 20s and you don’t have that many friends when you get closer to 30. There are maybe ten people in the audience they know. They come to every show because they like to see their friends shine.

It’s nicer to imagine this is all they need than this is a journey to somewhere greater that is statistically unlikely to come true. They’re good but I don’t know if they’re great.  I have a hard time not making judgments like. I also imagine people making the same judgents about my own dreams.

We cheer like crazy when their set ends. They pass around an empty pitcher.

I help fill it.

The champions should have enough to get blind drunk if they want it.

“I’m going to go for a smoke,” says my new friend. “You want to come?”

I nod.

******

We are outside for just a moment when we are joined by our friend. And the mysterious girl. They are leaning close to each other. Very little distance between their bodies and that space is filled with nervous excited energy.

“Two good guys,” he says.

He rests an arm on both of our shoulders.

“Two very good guys,” he says.

“Three good guys,” I say.

I look at the girl. Notice her dancing eyes. She’s doing that thing where she sort of glows.

“This guy saved my life,” I say.

“Really?” she says, mouth opening a little.

“Yeah I was being jumped by like three guys. He jumped in. Saved my life.”

I try to remember the details of this lie. Because maybe I won’t tell her I’m kidding. If he doesn’t laugh then I might have to recite this story well into the future.

He laughs. He takes a puff of his friend’s cigarette.

“I’m a very good fighter,” he says and gives the girl a look. She gives him one back.

We don’t exist anymore.

“You want a drink?” he asks her.

She nods.

“See you inside, brothers!” he says.

They walk back in.

“What are you up to these days,” he asks. “Besides the cuddle thing.”

It’ll never stop being weird how much introducing myself involves explaining the art of professional cuddling.

“Working on a new story. TV pilot sort of thing. Sort of about that magic time when being a kid starts to come to an end,” I say.

“When’s that?” he says with a big smile.

“First time when a friend dies,” I say.

“Yeah that’s a really crazy time,” he says. “Like when it isn’t a part of your family or expected.”

There’s a momentary pause.

“How old were you?” he asks.

I think about it. Doing the math. Remembering how fucking old I have become.

“We were 20, 21.”

“That happened in high school for me,” he says. “Lot of gay guys killed themselves. Sort of obvious I guess.”

“Not to me,” I say. “Is that super common?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s funny that happens for different people in different ways,” he says. “Friend I know went to an art school and it was drugs. Not suicide. Just like a lot of drug overdoses. Made him really straight edge.”

There were three times when drugs came into our lives and tried to kill my friends. It’s odd how no one tells you the different types of horror that came at you in your 20s. There’s mental illness, drugs, suicide and that endless space after you finishing doing what you’re supposed to do and that time where you arrivewhere you were supposed to go.

Momentary pause.

“Sounds like a cool project,” he says.  ”What got you into writing?” he asks.

I take a second. Gathering my strength.

He grins. Excited for me to tell a story. Knowing something is coming.

“My dad’s a writer,” I begin. “I looked up to him. I also just came up with stories. In grade 1 or primary I told my teacher about Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. My mom was reading it to me and I made a totally different book up.  Whenever someone asks him why I want to become a writer I usually bring up this story I read in a book by Mario Puzo. He wrote the Godfather. Anyways his character in this book Fools Die, is an orphan. He goes to the library and gets out Brothers Karazamov He reads it and he feels like this unbelievable beautiful relief. Like life is like this. He brings the book and he feels generous. Like he’s doing something incredible. Giving up this feeling and giving it to someone else. I write because I want to give someone else the feeling when I read something amazing.”

“I like that,” he says, brow furrowing. Thinking about it.

“I think that people sort of lie all the time,” I say.

“What do you mean?”

“Like everytime we are really vulnerable, we are like atrophied legs. Like we haven’t shown anyone in such a long time. I want to do work where people show that shit to other people. Encouraging other people to do it. I always respond to that,” I say. “I think that’s why people watch things. So they can see that stuff that no one shows in regular life. Sort of why I do it. Why I’m like dedicating my life to doing it.”

“I think that is true for people like me and you but not true for a lot of people,” he says. “I think people get really freaked out when they see that stuff. They don’t want to see the shitty parts of themselves. Like they will do anything to avoid noticing that shit.”

“Yeah like all those homophobic dudes who end up being caught getting blow jobs,” I say.

He laughs.

“You said it was what your life was about?” he says.

I shrug.

“I put a lot of time into it.”

When I was 20,21 everyone I knew was going to dedicate themselves to making art. Thousands of songs came out of that golden age. A million nights just like this one. Then the uncertainty got too much and they found something and one by one the exodus began. There were a few of us left. Obssessed and in love with the type of work we did. Still not getting rich. The knowledge that seizing the world was less and less likely and too addicted to change what we were doing.

“Why is it your purpose though?” he asks.

I take a second and really think about it. This has been something I’ve been grappling with lately as I get closer to doing what I want to be doing. As I double down a long ago bet. As I put more pressure on myself than I need to.

“I feel really alive when I do it,” I say. “Sometimes I think it’s why I am here.”

I hit a button in his brain. His whole demeanor switches. First suppressed shock, then concern, then he straightens. Like he’s ready to do battle. He’s had this conversation before. Sometimes he just had it with himself. Pretending he was talking to the people he should have spoken to before. Before it was too late.

“I think that’s a really dangerous thing to say,” he says.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself,” he says. “I’ve seen a lot of people put pressure on themselves and their work and it really fucked them up. Fucked them up really badly”

I nod. Knowing what that feels like. When someone doesn’t like your work it can feel like they don’t like you. It’s hard not to identify that closely with your work because to make good work you have to be obsessive. You have to really feel it. You have to be willing to be hurt by it.

Being a successful  is something  where the goal line moves every time you get near it. It’s not about enjoying the destination. It’s about the next place you get to go. Joseph Heller was haunted by Catch 22, never able to equal it in his whole career. You do good work and you chase it like a heroin hit. I wrote Colony of Losers and people told me it saved their life. But they didn’t mention the quality of the writing.  We made Just Cuddle and we showed it to our friends and family and people’s response left me and dazed and confused after hearing things I’d desperately wanted to hear. But why wasn’t there coverage? Then when we got coverage why didn’t they specifically say this or that?

The praise never matters that much. Because there is always a further place to reach. A higher goal to set. And you won’t be able to succeed all the time. My work gets closer to consistently good but great happens rarely and I tell myself I’m a writer.

Which means that who I am is a gamble everytime I write something and let you read it.

Writing trains you to make a realistic story. Only life isn’t like that. The meaning isn’t in a narrative line. Alot of writers suffer from extreme case of mental illness. Part of that is writing gives you a sense of control, like all art does, like you can shape human ugliness into humanity. Anything that gives you control has an addictive property and in a life that is chaotic, it makes you believe in a delusion. In that sense of control you learn how to lie convincingly. When you stop putting your talent into a story, you’re left with a genius for lying to yourself. Which can prove fatal. If you don’t realize it’s a thing you love doing, and not the only reason people will love you.

Sometimes thinking there is a purpose to your life is like believing you have to climb Everest to be considered a decent human being.

He’s looking at me. Like he can read my thoughts. Knowing he has to press me further.

“Yeah maybe I misspoke.”

“Do you believe it?” he asks, his tone empathetic but with a hint of interrogation.

Sometimes I do. I shouldn’t. But I do.

“Yeah, sometimes I think it’s like my reason to be here. To make stuff. I have chosen it over people in my life a couple of times.”

“Chose it how?” he asks.

“My last relationship…she didn’t want to live in Toronto. I couldn’t pursue my career if I left. So I said we should probably break up. Because I couldn’t not live here”

He nods for a second.

“Do you think that’s it though?” he asks.”Like you just had to be an artist and it was between her and your masterpiece.”

I shake my head.

I’ve been caught. It is bullshit.

“I don’t know. Probably not.”

“I think relationships aren’t even really just about the people,” he says. “It’s like coincidence and circumstance and the right people. If you don’t have the right circumstance it doesn’t matter if the person is great. Do you think it was really about writing? Or was it just not the right circumstance?”

I feel a little lump in my throat. The idea that I chose art over love is a bad story to tell yourself. Even if it felt like that at the time. Even if it just felt like that because it was comforting. Only it isn’t. It’s an added weight I put on myself. To make each project I work on as good as it can be. So it good it can be worth losing human connection.

“Yeah,” I say. “Thanks. I needed to hear that.”

“I’m not saying art isn’t great or worthwhile,” he says. “We were just talking about losing friends. I have lost a lot of friends to that shit. Like they killed themselves for their art. And their art wasn’t that good.”

What art is good enough to die for?

It’s an odd thought. One I’ve never had before.

I feel this tremor.

This idea of me dying. Surrounded by the books I’ve written. The movies I’ve made. The idea that for decades at a time I only thought about my work. That maybe I found love. Maybe when it got hurt I didn’t fight for it. I just wrote something beautiful about it. That instead of living I found a vivid dream and put my passion there instead.

But…..

It’s not that fucking simple.

“When our friend died we all made a lot of stuff,” I say. “My friend Dave did these shows with his friend DJ Cosmo. They were super orchestrated, calculated down to the second, even the conversation in between. And we would all show up. And he did this song about our friend who left. It was like everytime we went out we got to really feel how much he mattered to us. And we were all together. It was that time. When we were all trying to make something. And we sort of just making it for ourselves. It felt like it was a way to hang onto him. And like a way to stay alive even when it hurt all the time.”

Think of every song you’ve listened during a break up. That magic moment when you saw someone else’s story and you realized a key to your own. There’s something more in these pretend worlds. Something that is powerful enough to dedicate a life to.

“That sounds like you had a good group of friends,” he says.

“I think it can give you a sense of control,” I say. “Like that’s how bad stuff inspires you to make great art. Because you have to do it. To be able to hang on to life when it gets hard. It’s like a really good argument not to do something stupid.”

“Totally,” he says.

Beat.

“It’s just not worth dying for,” he says. Takes a pause. “It’s just dumb. Because it’s cool to be passsionate about your work. To really pursue. It’s just not that important.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t say I’m this piece of work I did,” I say.

Yet how do I introduce myself to people? How do people introduce me? I say I am a writer. For someone reason that means something different than I am an insurance adjuster. Maybe I don’t agree with him. Not all the way. There has to be sacrifice to get any place important. Thousand upon thousands of hours aren’t sunk cost. It also shouldn’t be something that people can take away from me. My life’s purpose shouldn’t depend on someone else paying attention to me.

“Maybe it just can’t work,” he says. “I think it’s fucking stupid. You think when I think about my friends I think about their art exhibits or their plays or their songs? I think about you know. Doing stupid stuff. Just them talking to me about stuff. And that I like needed them. At a lot of points and they aren’t around because they were chasing this thing. This thing that doesn’t give a shit about them.  And I can’t see them anymore. Even though I really want to.”

I think about it. At the time and after.

I give him a hug. He hugs me back.

“I’ll think about it,” I say. “I really will.”

“Good. Drink?”

“Sure.”

******

We get a drink. Beer for him. Rum and coke for me.

Our friendship established by one good conversation.

I don’t remember his name. I think he assumes my name is just Kimber as people forget to say my first name when they introduce me. We’ve moved away from the table near the musicians. Just having a drink by ourselves. In that nice people where you just met someone and you can sort of say anything. I’m trying to make him laugh because I sort of feel like I owe him a debt. He’s told me things I needed to hear when I needed to hear them.

We watch our friend and the girl.

Running her hands down his arm. He’s leaning in. Speaking so quietly no one else but her can hear him. Whispering secrets. They leave together. With a little goodbye. I discover they have a long history. This evening might change their lives.

We talk about life. About the idea of having children. What we want our lives to be like. It’s that conversation that sort of can be about anything and involves arguing. Like it’s important.

Like there’s nothing more important going on in the background.

 

 

 

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“You’ve never seen your face!”

Posted on | June 29, 2017 | No Comments

“You’ve never seen your face,” says the kindly 70 year old man.

“Hmm?” I ask.

“Hmmm? Not hmm. You. Have. Never. Ever seen your face.”

His eyes are sparkling as he says this. His voice is German yet somehow soft and animated with the burning enthusiasm of a child who just saw a flower for the first time in his life. We are at a buddhist temple. I’m drinking the complimentary tea and eating the cookies.

“Never?” I say.

“Not once,” he says. His finger goes up to rest like an exclaimation point in front of his face.  ”Not in your entire life!”

There are a lot of reasons to meditate.

You can find listicles online that have up to a hundred reasons. They include cultivating gratitude, lowering anxiety and health benefits like lowering your potential for heart disease.

All those reasons are bullshit.

The best reason to meditate is this man’s 70 year old face.  Look at this man’s face and you don’t have to be scared of getting older. His lips naturally curl into a smile. His eyes are like blue jewels. He has the energy of a child let out to play.

Sometimes if you’re lucky you get to wear this a face like this for a couple of minutes a month. When through luck and coincidence that claw digging into your brain looses it grip. And you manage to escape that pressure and you can appreciate the delicate feel of the sun’s rays as they brush across your face and you feel the warm light dance over the curtains of your eyelids. When you can forget that you’ve seen everything a million times and stop looking at years ago.

“Never once?” I ask.

I’m egging him on. I like seeing him get fired up.

“No!” he says, brimming with joy. “You see your face how?”

“In a mirror?” I reply.

“Exactly. It’s not the same face she sees.”

He points at a fellow meditator. I met her about 16 weeks ago. On a Wednesday at the open sit.

“No. I see a different face,” she replies. “Different than you see.”

Now I look at her face. Kind. A little tired. About my age. Nicer to other people than she is to herself.

Through post meditation conversations I’ve discovered she is an amateur mathematician with little liking for poetry. Meditation sometimes makes her feel depressed, as her inner voice isn’t always polite.   She is from Eastern Europe and balances their sense of brutal honesty with shotgun blasts of childish laughter.

“It’s reflected off a mirror. It’s backwards. You’re seeing your face backwards. All reflective surfaces make your face twist around so you’ve never seen it in your entire life,” says the kindly 7o year old German man. “They lie. They rearrange.”

“Cameras?” I ask.

“Same,” he asserts. “Total same thing.”

“Lakes?”

“Anything that reflects,” he says. “Anything!”

I think of all the time I’ve spent looking in the mirror.

I like looking in the mirror.  When I was in highschool I was really overweight and about a foot shorter before I went through and used to hate looking at my face. Doughy. Someone once described me as a Furby.  It didn’t look like how I felt.  I enjoy looking at my face now. Even as wrinkles accrue and my teeth show signs of too much coffee. I also wonder how people see my face. What they think when they see it.

It’s strange to realize that I’ll never know.

In the same way I’ll never really know how people see me. You know like metaphorically see me.

I’m caught up in my intentions and preconceptions about how I’m seen in the world. My mind is like a mirror. Flawed in the way it sends signals back to me. It’s not a blank canvas. My brain isn’t neutral or an honest arbiter of the world. Due to its inherent confirmation bias, the opinions I hold actually twist the information I take into confirm to my hopes and fears.

I lie to myself without knowing it.

A common misconception is that meditation is about the process of turning off your brain. It isn’t. Those moments of spaciousness are like happiness, just a temporary reward for hard work.

Meditation is about looking at your brain.

Noticing the stories you tell yourself. So that you can notice how you lie to yourself. How you escape feeling that discomfort where nothing is certain and only change is permanent. How by doing so you blame yourself, you blame others because you don’t want to feel anything unpleasant and you want stories that make you feel secure and comfortable in your understanding of yourself and the world. Only by escaping your feelings you deny yourself the chance to be there for yourself. You deny yourself the chance to really understand what other people are going through.

Think of all the times you’ve felt sick in your gut. You’ve gone hunting for the source of that feeling. You’ve told yourself stories. You’ve played detective and you’ve created a narrative. You think the truth is in your gut. In that panicked feeling you want to escape from.

So much so that you don’t look at it or feel the texture of that sensation. In a book by Pema Chodron she says our panicked responses last approximately 90 seconds. You have a thought it scares you and if you stay with it the feeling disappears within 90 seconds. It’s actually our desire to stop that feeling which magnifies it. Instead of 90 seconds we make the feeling last days by creating a story to explain it. By trying to ignore the groundless nature of reality and pretend it’s a character flaw.

The best lesson anyone that has struggled with mental illness is given is the knowledge that we lie to ourselves all the time.

Our gut isn’t a fortune teller.

It’s a scared person looking for safety in a world that doesn’t guarantee it.

I can’t see my face.

But I can see his.

The child like wonder. The excitement of discovery that every day offers him.The chance to really see yourself and not have to run away. To see other people with that same kindness. To look at someone like you’ve never seen them before. To truly see them in this moment. Which you can only do if you’re willing to look at yourself and realize there isn’t anything concrete. Just a story you tell yourself. An image reflected back at you that you make into a symbol.

“What do you see when you see his face?” asks the kindly German man.

She thinks for a second.

“It’s beautiful. A beautiful face,” she says.

I smile. Not worrying about showing my not so white teeth. Without the fear I’ll be caught on camera.

I have no idea what my face looks like.

I look at them. Really looking at them and I feel this gentle euphoria sweep through me.

We can limit the world and make it small enough to fit into our conception of ourselves.

Or we can give into the mystery and let ourselves look with the same curiosity in this old man’s face.

We can be children in awe of our experience, in the knowledge that we’ll never really understand it.

That if we are very lucky, we can feel it.

 

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  • Introduction to the Cure



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  • About

    Michael Kimber is a 26-year-old journalist who suffered a nervous breakdown on November 3rd, 2009. On March 28th, 2010 when he recovered from mental illness, he began writing a blog called Colony-of-losers. About falling on your face to figure out who you are and the hilarious antics of a blond jew. What began with a few friends and his mother reading has become a cult phenomenon, averaging 10,000 views a week, receiving praise from Commonwealth Award Winner Shandi Mitchell and many others. On, November 3rd, 2010, the one year anniversary of his mental breakdown he signed with Anne McDermid and Associates, the largest literary agency in Canada. In a year he went from wearing pajamas, making his couch depression HQ to leaving his hometown for the Toronto, where he exclusively wears business suits and the armor of ancient Greeks. Don't worry, he's still choking on the feet he contently sticks in his mouth and making moments awkward just by being part of them. During these struggles he met other talented bastards and drew them into his circle. Peter Diamond became his illustrator. Patrick Campbell his video editor and part time photographer. He recently added the incredibly talented John Packman as Colony of Losers Toronto photographer. Without the support of the Colony of Losers, Michael Kimber would be nothing. Welcome to the losers and the success that comes from utter and complete failure. You aren’t alone. Follow him on twitter.com/colonyoflosersand twitter.com/quimbo. If you’d like to hire him for a public speaking engagement for mental health events in Toronto, like to arrange an interview, offer millions to publish his book or for another reason contact Michael please email him. And join his facebook Colony of Losers.

    Really obvious disclaimer:
    I’m not a trained psychologist. Just a fellow traveler. If you need help seek it from the professionals. The Canadian Mental Health Association provides a help locator. You can find crisis resources provided by the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. If you are in the states check here. It will give you services by zip code. I’d also recommend checking out Mindyourmind.ca. I think they do great work and have been a help to me personally.

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