Wednesday, May 10, 2017

20 Minutes

Let's simplify the world for a moment and imagine that there are two kinds of relationships; those that require small talk and those that do not. The former category covers most relationships. Big news requires a period of introduction and adjustment to develop a rapport with the person and after a time you can begin to talk about serious things. In the latter category that sometimes happens but isn't necessary. You can drop directly from "How are things?" to a discussion of the things that are most important to you without having to have a lot of introduction.

So when you only have two days in which to pack all of the visiting in that you possibly can and there's a whole bunch of other things going on, maybe think about people who are part of that second category and carve out space for them. You're close so it doesn't need to be two hours, but if you can find twenty minutes somewhere maybe the two of you can drop into that level of intimacy in conversation that you've built up over years of conversation.

And let's be honest. It's easier to find twenty minutes than two hours.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Three Paragraphs: Routine

*Chair Squeals* Well it's been a week since I got that cold thing I was talking about last time. I was looking through the log sheets I built to keep track of my progress on my goals for this year and there's eight days missing inexplicably. Actually that's the wrong word. It's easy to explain but if I were a spinning top right now I'd be wobbling pretty hard right now.

I find routines to be important. When I manage to do something for a few weeks in a row I feel like I'm making real changes in my life. I feel like things are happening. These reinforcing good feelings only get better as times goes on because I can't actually remember the individual moments of each day anymore. If memory is like a pen placing dots on a page as it rolls by, then my pen isn't dotting as often anymore and I can feel it. My replacement for this is to make each day as similar as possible so there's less I have to remember. If every day is the same then I can start to remember the differences instead of having to remember every part of the day.

Except that it seems that every time I get a good routine going, a cold comes along and shoves all of that aside and throws it in the garbage. I have no idea what is happening in my life right now because I haven't followed any of the usual routines for a week and a half. My dotting pen can't even find the page to dot on these days. And no amount of routine can fix the fact that when my alarm goes off I'm simply rolling over and going back to bed. Cold, I shake my fist at you.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Three Paragraphs: My Weakness

I got a cold this week. It came on some time around Monday when I was in the middle of a closing shift at work. I could feel the tickle in the back of my through that told me that my nose was starting to run. I could feel the words become hard and harder to get out of my throat. I could feel sleep start to chase me even though it was only 9 PM and I still had an hour and a half to go. I got home and headed to bed with the intention of getting up at 4 AM and heading to the gym before anyone else got there and continue working on my New Year's Resolution to bulk up in the lower body area by lifting heavy weights.

The next morning I woke up at 9 AM just barely and only because I had to get up to go to an appointment with Amanda. There was no lifting of heavy weights. Okay, I told myself that I'd just do it Wednesday morning instead. Except on Wednesday I woke up and felt like I was breathing through a straw and so I figured I should wait until Friday to go back again. At 3 AM on Friday morning I awoke after three hours of fitful sleep and decided to take drugs and go back to bed. I awoke at 8 AM and didn't lift anything heavier than a coffee mug.

Does this make me weak? Am I making excuses? I want to go to the gym but 4 AM is really the only time it's empty enough for me to not be afraid of working out, and there are an awful lot of reasons why it doesn't always work out for me to wake up then. I don't think it makes me weak, I think it makes me realistic. I'm not going to win any awards or anything but with very little practice, I'm already 60% of the way towards hitting my weight targets for this year so maybe I can take things a bit easier. Yes this is my weakness but I'm not really into self-flagellation.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Chance the Rapper

This time last year, I pulled out the top ten albums on Pitchfork's best of list. I tend to be sort of hit-or-miss with Pitchfork recommendations because they pay a lot closer attention to lyrical content than I do, and put less emphasis on the sound. However, every now and then I line up with their thoughts and the best of list usually helps me to push past some of my musical prejudices. Last year helped me to appreciate Kendrick Lamar more. This year I started listening to Chance the Rapper who I had missed in the noise of the general music press.

I'd love to share Chance with some of the people I talk to. Sometimes when I'm working at youth group I want to put music on, but the problem is that so much of the music I listen to is rooted in exploring loss or injustice or the ugly parts of life or it comes out of a place where there's honest talk about sex, or drugs, or violence, or its just mentioned because that's a part of life. I can't imagine the conversations I'd have to have with parents if they wanted to know where their kids were learning these new words from. There's adults where I have the same problem. I don't know how to articulate something like Chance's album to other people because I see so much depth in it when you go looking, but I don't think most people I interact with on the daily could get past the fact that "this is rap music". I think they'd have the same reaction my Grade 5 teacher had. "Rap music is fast talking over rhythmic music with lots of vulgarity". They don't want to parse curse words into something with more depth they just feel awkward about it.

This has got to be a complete shift in the way that people think about culture and language and I honestly don't know if I'll see it. I know if I have kids or when I talk to kids about music and culture I'll want to talk about it in a way that emphasizes that we look behind what's on the surface to understand the story someone is telling and understanding how some language gets limited to certain spheres and certain people. Maybe after a few generations of that you can get your stodgy uncle listening to "Same Drugs".

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Churchill

"Winston Churchill was a great prime minister. Except then World War 2 ended and he wasn't as great anymore."

Some friends of mine have a lot of respect for Winston Churchill. I guess I do too. World War 2 is such a crystal clear conflict. There were these people who were evil. There were these people who fought those evil people and so they were good. Then there were the Russians. Even World War 2 isn't clear. Winston Churchill seems to have been the perfect man for this time. He kept Britain together during one of its most difficult periods. He cranked out some fantastic quotes. Then the war ended and until recently I heard very little about what he accomplished as the Prime Minister of a peace time nation.

Both wars just seem so crystalline now compared to what we experience on a day to day basis. As we identify people more and more as individuals, I come to realize that I can't say "The Russians" anymore. There is Putin, there are his followers, there are his opponents, there are the people in his country who may or may not care about what he does. Millions of individual people who live in Russia but who can't be grouped as "The Russians". I think someone like Churchill wouldn't do well today. Too much granularity in the political landscape. Too much individuality. No collectivism to rally the Russians against.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Naomi's Road

When I was eight or nine years old my sister gave me a book to read called Naomi's Road. It's about a girl's experience of the internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War Two. The book was perfect for me at that time because I understood about as much of what Naomi describes in the book as Naomi did. I finished the book and thought "she had a really strange life during the war. I hope things work out for her."

Today I was reading my twitter feed and was reminded of the Japanese Interment in North America. I think its history is more screwed up in Canada because of all the repossession that happened where the government basically stole the livelihood of all the people interned and left them to their own devices to figure it out. I was reminded of all of this because of a series of photographs by an American photojournalist who took pictures during the war that were locked away because they were viewed as sympathetic toward the Japanese by the American Government at the time. You can see some of those pictures here.

I feel a bit like nine-year old me sometimes. Gloriously oblivious to all of the things happening in the world and leaving situations thinking "I hope it works out for them".

Friday, December 9, 2016

Three Paragraphs: Three Reflexes


*puts hands in mouth*


The * is a useful way to mark actions in internet writing. It tells you that what you're reading isn't a word, but is instead a description of what that person is doing. The three actions I have described above have something in common. They're all reflexes.

The first one is universal. Everyone blinks. You're doing it right now. Now you're trying not to because I'm making you self-conscious. Now you're giving up and doing it anyways. Let's move on. The next one is common but not universal. I stick my fingers in my mouth all the time without thinking. Some of my co-workers bump my elbows when I do it. It doesn't make me stop. It's reflexive. It means I'm stressed. I can't figure out how to stop because I don't even notice when I'm doing it.

The last one is the keyboard shortcut for opening a new tab in your browser. I have done it so much, I don't even have to look down at the keyboard to make it happen. My pinky drops down to ctrl, my index finger flexes out and presses "T" and then I'm punching in the first three letters of a website I've visited a thousand times. The I push the down arrow and start looking to see if there's anything new worth reading. 90% of the time there isn't. Ctrl+T doesn't provide a magical portal to a new word. Yet I'm pushing it hundreds of times a day without even thinking. Where did I even learn this behaviour? I don't know. Like the slap of the elbow, there's no stopping it because I'm not even thinking about it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thoughts from Arrival

On Monday I needed to kill some time. They were spraying our apartment for cockroaches and I had to stay out for a few hours. Unable to go home, I decided to go see a movie. I ended up choosing "Arrival" with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. A review I read ahead of time said that it was "emotionally devastating". This was true. I cried.

I'm still thinking about it a few days later. Without going into detail about the film, I was affected by it's thoughts on human relationships. We have this dual joy and tragedy created by every interaction we have with another person or animal that we care about. First is the joy that comes from being together. To build a relationship with someone is to feel joy and comfort and companionship. The good moments in a friendship or marriage or other kinds of relationship are the kind of good that you don't find anywhere else in the world. I think that's where life is at its absolute best. And so the tragedy is the knowledge that every one of those relationships will end at some point with the death either of ourselves or of the other person.When we choose to operate in the moment, then our feelings about that relationship are tied to the state of that person at that time. But if we think about the relationship as a single unit encompassing both the joy of togetherness and the pain of separation, then every relationship becomes much more complex. It's not either joy or pain. It's a feeling in the moment, tempered by all the other feelings that go along with that relationship; hopes about the future, moments of tension in the past, feelings of anger, tender moments.

I tend to want a more pure emotional experience. Either let me be really happy or let me be really sad but don't try and mute things out by mixing feelings together. After watching this movie, I'm starting to rethink that. It's foolish to deny that we can anticipate a variety of experiences in a relationship. It's wiser to accept those variety of tones and use them to carry us through both highs and lows.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Don't Look Back in Anger

Yesterday I was angry. I was very angry. You might ask me "Ben, what was it that got you so angry", and I would have to tell you that I do not know. I can remember the experience of being angry quite vividly. I wanted to punch something, I had a hard time engaging in conversation, and everything was tipping me off. But there was no single thing that had made me so angry. It was more like a million tiny things had pushed the boulder of my anger down a hill and now there was no stopping.

It is amazing how difficult it can be to alter your own emotions when something like this happens. There was no moment for me to let go of, and as I got angry each subsequent offense made me more and more frustrated. First it was because we were talking about someone that made me upset, then it was because the equipment was broken, and then people started asking me questions and I got even more agitated even though it usually would have been fine.

I was blessed to find out that yesterday was a short day for me. I thought I would be there until 2, but I had misread my schedule and discovered that I was actually to go home at 10:30 am. This turned out to be the thing which turned aside my anger in that moment and so there was no chance to learn how to cool off in the moment. So today when I go back, I will need to consider how I stop from getting angry in the first place.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Playing games with Strangers

Sometime in the Spring of last year I finished my full time studies at Tyndale and switched over to being a part time student. I only had three credits left to finish and I spread them out across a few semesters. I had dropped part time work while I finished my studies because I was also finishing an internship at a church, so when May of 2015 rolled around, there was a considerable lull in my schedule. One day while I was sitting around looking for something to do, I picked up Destiny which I had bought the previous September for my PS3 because I had some birthday money I needed to spend. I had played it for maybe three hours and then given up on it. I picked it back up because people kept talking about how great it was. Flash forward a year and a half and Destiny has ironically saved me a ton of money. I have spent less than $150 since buying it because I literally have no interest in playing other games. It's fun, it always gives me something to do, and I can play at any time for short bursts.

Destiny is an inherently social game in some senses. It's always online and the game world is constantly populated by other players who are on different adventures which come in contact with yours at a tangent. Their names flash by in an instant and disappear. Because the game matches you by internet connection, you will sometimes get matched up with the same strangers more than once. I encountered the same guy in one of the social spaces of the game on two separate occasions about a month apart. We figured out it's because we're both in Toronto.

The game also blocks access to some parts if you don't have enough "friends" to play with. I use the term friends loosely here. It just means that you are connected with people that you have communicated with outside of the game. When I first started playing I mostly ignored this kind of stuff because I had no microphone and no way to communicate with other people so I figured it was basically off limits. As I played more, I found some tools that help you to meet other players, including a really helpful website called

This morning I completed an achievement that marked the end of stuff to do in the second year of the game. It involved a coordinated effort between six people in specific roles to do in a reasonable amount of time. I had never played with any of the five I did it with before. We finished the whole thing in an hour. I was breathing heavily the entire time, nervous that I was going to screw up for this group of strangers. I didn't. We were successful.

If you had told me two years ago that I would be doing this kind of thing I wouldn't have believed you. I am generally afraid of strangers. How I get by at Starbucks always amazes me. And I know it's a video game and it's kind of stupid, but it feels good to be able to say that I can participate in something I enjoy with other people who also enjoy it and we can happily enjoy it all together. I am happy to have finished the second year of Destiny, and I hope this transfers into other parts of life.