Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Greatest Gift of All

It's the Christmas season. It's firmly the Christmas season. I can tell because the left-leaning Christians I follow on twitter are telling people to stop being upset about the phrase "happy holidays" while the right-leaning Christians are warning people about the "war on Christmas". When I was a kid none of this kind of stuff mattered and Christmas was a wonderful time so I don't see why I would start caring about it now. Christmas is a time to think about the things that matter.

Yes, Jesus is one of those things. No, that is not what I'm going to talk about here.

When I think of Christmas I get all warm and fuzzy. Mostly it's because my parents house is nice and warm while my apartment remains frigid due to budgetary constraints, but part of it is because of all of the things that happen. I get to see family, sit around and do jigsaw puzzles, play video games with people who do not play video games. It's nice.

This are not always this way though. Last year I was home only for a few days because of work. It was a reminder that not everyone gets two weeks to go home and fart around while responsibilities remain far away. It's very upper-middle class. If you work on a bank calendar (9-5 with all weekends and holidays off) then it's great because you get a solid chunk of days off but if you work in any other industry, you're usually SOL. I have discovered that most places stay open on Christmas day now which means that if you work any kind of shift work, you're going to end up working at least one (if not all) of those statutory holidays around Christmas. It sucks if you have plans to go home during Christmas.

Why does this happen? The answer is people do things on Christmas Day. People go to movies. People go out to eat. People want a Starbucks coffee at 3 PM on December 25th. The demand for these kind of services exists on Holidays when parts of the population assume that no one is working because people don't understand what that does.

At this point you have realized that this is just another opportunity for me to tell you what to do with your life. You are correct sir/madam. This is the part of the post where I tell you to stay home on statutory holidays. Stock up on food and cigarettes and coffee the day before. Plan ahead. Stay indoors. Do not go outside. It is hazardous to the health of those who are forced to work those days because of your outrageous demands. Stay home and maybe demand will drop enough that business will stop insisting on staying open on stat holidays. Together we can make the service industry less terrible.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sources and Stories

I've started reading Reddit a lot these days. For those of you who don't know, Reddit is the latest in a series of websites that allow people to submit stories and then have them voted up or down depending on how people see them. Reddit builds on this formula by adding discussions to these stories and the way these discussions unfold can also be upvoted or downvoted. It's created a certain kind of community that lurks around the site. You can see what this community views as its ideal by heading to reddit.com/r/bestof

The Reddit community is relentless in its requests for sources. When people start arguing about stuff, unless you have sources to back up your statements, you should probably just stop typing. Most people are suspiscious about people who start claiming "this is true!" without any sort of independent verification. They will usually pull up their own sources and start rebutting you. People aren't ready to believe just anything anyone says. They want the honest scientifically-proven-witness-verified truth.

Most of the time...

I've been listening to a lot of comedy lately. I was sick on Sunday and I laid out on the bathroom floor and listened to David Sedaris while I waited for my body to remember how to do things like move. As I laid there listening, I was listening to him tell stories about their lives and then make observations about these things. The observations are often insightful and true when I listen to them and the fact that they come out of such hilarious stories often makes me wonder if he's making things up or not (apparently he does).

But I don't really care. I'm not going to be the guy who stands up and yells at David Sedaris for lying. I am definitely not going to be the one to point at a comedian and ask them if they story they are telling is really true. For one thing I would be heckling people who basically make a living out of shaming hecklers. But more importantly it doesn't matter. Whether the story is true or not is inconsequential. I can handle the story being in some kind of Schroedinger's cat-like stage where it is both true and not true at the same time. The important part of the story is the insight that comes at the end of it. The observations about life that I laugh at because they are true. So the truth of the story is irrelevant and if it's a lie, I am not really bothered.

I think this kind of thing I think a lot when I am listening to Louis CK. Louis CK is a guy who has made a living out of presenting himself as vulnerable and honest and open about everything. Yet I still wonder if he's making stuff up sometimes for the sake of his observations. As with Sedaris, it doesn't really matter if it's true or not because asking the question would leave someone subject to much ridicule by others listening, but it's more complicated here. If people connect with someone because they are being honest and then I find out they made it up, there's something wrong with that. The reason that people connect with you turns out to be untrue.

Yet I'm sure that if people were told tomorrow in a newspaper exposee that Louis CK made up a lot of his material, no one would care. People would still identify with him and his work. They would still laugh at his comments and jokes. It seems like there's this drive for sources, but then there are exceptions made for comedians and other people.


Except it's not an exception. People listen to comedians to hear them tell stories, yes, but people really listen so they can hear the truth presented in a particular sort of way. People are listening to Louis CK or David Sedaris or Jerry Seinfeld or whoever because they tell good stories, but they're also listening because they want to hear their own thoughts said by someone else. They want to hear that they're not alone in experiencing that emptiness inside. They want to hear that other men think of driving as a race against everyone else. That is the truth they are looking for.

And when you are told that the story is made up, you don't even care because the important part at the end of the story is still true irrespective of the story.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

1200 Words On Door Holding and Altruism

Have you ever held the door for someone? Have you held the door for a lot of someone’s? There is a calculation you make when you hold the door for someone. You want to hold the door for someone who is directly behind you because it’s easy and if you don’t then you look like an asshole. But if someone is really far behind you, then you probably won’t hold the door for them because then you’re left standing in the doorway for thirty seconds looking the opposite forwards but holding the door for the person behind you. This is bad for both of you because it makes them run for the door because they now feel bad because you are standing there and holding the door for them and they are a hundred miles away. As they finally reach the door they take the time to puff out a “anks” because no one can announciate a “th” sound when they’ve just run a thousand miles to open the door you’ve been holding for thirty years.

Why do people hold doors? Altruism right? It’s about doing something selfless. You want to be nice and respectful to those around you. This is what you tell people when asked about it. If you are like most people though, then this is probably not true. I learned this in my apartment building.

I live in a “secure” apartment building. Secure is in quotes because the security is one easily duplicable key. I also use secure in quotes because it is general practice in my building to let anyone who is outside of the secure area in by pressing the wheelchair access button. The person on the outside is grateful for being let in and the person on the inside can feel good about him or herself knowing that they helped someone out. This all seems pretty altruistic right? Not when we factor in the elevator.

You see, the person pressing the wheelchair access button is waiting for the elevator. The elevators in my building suck and so you have to wait ten minutes for one to come. While you’re standing there waiting for the elevator, you stare at the giant mirrored wall which shows who’s in the public area of the lobby. It’s kind of awkward staring at someone when they know that you can let them in. A combination of this and the convention of everyone in my building doing this leads people to do this automatically. It requires the minimum possible amount of effort (most people are already leaning on the button) and does not take any time. If they were really being altruistic then they would hold the elevator.

Remember how the elevator takes ten minutes to come? Once people get in the elevator, you are SOL for getting someone to open the door for you. At that point they will just stare at you as you fumble for your keys and watch the elevator doors close in front of your outstretched arm. Holding the elevator for you would require that they go out of their way to help you. It would require some more waiting for the elevator which already took ten minutes to come. This is simply too much for people who were just helping out of convention and awkwardness before and so they drop the appearance of altruism as soon as the elevator doors open. People are not as altruistic as they seem.

I’m focusing on the people in my building here though. There are others areas where this happens. For example, I go to school in North York. Not on a main street though. The campus is built so that you have to walk for fifteen minutes to get there no matter which of the three bus routes you take to get there. This is annoying for those of us who commute. However, the remote location is helpful for the myriad of students who drive there because there is lots of parking for their many cars.

On any given day (or night) there are people walking to the bus stop, and there are people driving home. The amount of time spent walking to the bus stop and then taking the bus to the subway station makes for a large annoyance as I mentioned earlier. A ride to the subway station is considered a precious gift to the transit users. Sometimes if I know someone in my class, they will recognize me walking to the bus stop and offer me a ride. This saves me about twenty five minutes and takes the person driving a maximum of five extra minutes. It seems really nice at first appearance.

This does not happen very often though. Most of the time, I spend my time walking home watching my many classmates drive past in their individual motor vehicles on the way to wherever they might be headed. Some days I can let it go, some days I get bitter about it, but the paradox always catches me when I am driving home. I go to seminary. We are being trained to be better Christians every day. You would think we would be good at altruism. We are going to class because we want to give up more of our time for God, and yet people still get driven by without being offered a ride.

A disclaimer here for a moment. Sometimes I drive to school and I do exactly the same thing. I am not holier than thou. I make the same decisions other people make. Ok disclaimer over.

This is because no one is actually being altruistic. When people are offered rides, the other person is being courteous and friendly. They see someone they know, they recognize an obvious service, and they are aware that it will take them almost no time and effort to offer said service. It’s not even out of their way. There’s no great selfless self-giving, other-serving act at play here. It’s just simple math. This is moderately helpful and costs me nothing. I will do it.

There is a point to all of my endless arguing. I feel like I’ve established that people are generally not altruistic when it comes to holding the elevator and driving people to the subway station. It would be stretching to say that people aren’t generally altruistic, although I could probably go there. What is the take away message from all of this?

The take away message is stop being so damn selfish and be more altruistic. If there's one thing I learned in biology it's that humans can hijack our own tendencies (evolutionary or otherwise) and there's nothing I love more than giving evolutionary theory a swift kick in the face. Don this this can mean something small. Take a calculation, figure out that what you are about to do is actually going to cost you something, and then intentionally do it anyways. Stop for a pedestrian who is trying to cross at a weird place on the road. Hold the never-arriving elevator for someone even if it slows you down for thirty seconds. Pick up a hitchhiker. Recognize that people tend to be selfish and give that tendency a giant middle finger. Doesn’t it bother you that it’s so easy for me to be pessimistic about the world? It does? Good, now go out there and do something about it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"You bought a bike?"

I did. It looks like this (except it's got red colouring instead of blue).



This will probably come as a shock to you. I did not announce my intention to buy a bike. I didn't really need to buy a bike since I had a functional one that was obtained in a back alley kijiji deal during which I feared for my life. I have also just quit my job so right now is maybe not the smartest time to spend money. I should be hoarding up all the money I can and working as many hours as I can in an effort to get set up for the next few months of not working right?

My decision to buy a bike has lots to do with how I feel lately. As my previous post mentioned, the last year hasn't been the best for me. I've struggled to work up the motivation for things like being an attentive husband or being a rock-solid friend. I've struggled with my vices (or my vice is more like it). I have not really been excited about anything in a long time. Moments that should have been incredibly exhilarating passed by with relatively little fanfare. It's almost like that feeling that you get when you reach the first birthday where it's no longer a big deal except I've been having that feeling all of the time for an extended period of time.

Some people would get around this by talking to friends. I did talk to Amanda about this a fair bit. She looks at me as I sit there on the couch and sigh as I try and explain exactly what I am feeling. Some people would go see a doctor. Me? I purchase a bicycle.

I'll have to get back to you on whether it's working or not. I went for a ride on it today and it is marvelous. It's light, comfortable, tackles hills like a dream, and makes me feel really classy. I don't think it will solve any of my problems, but it will get me to and from work and school a lot faster and it will build a lot of muscle on the way.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"How is school?"

About a hundred people have asked me that thus far this year. Asking how school is going is one of those questions that people ask as the standard array of questions about people's lives. You know the one's I'm talking about? "How's life? How's school? How's the wife/husband/significant other?" I don't doubt that people are genuinely curious, but I don't always have time to explain exactly what happens.

There is a good reason for this. This year was not so hot. Last year I was working at a job that revolved around a community of people who were working with the goal of bring others the news of Christ. I found the work I did fulfilling and interesting and I felt like I was a valuable member of the team. I also got to live with my parents (who by the way are both super awesome) and got to spend time with some friends that were too often far away. It was a good year.

This year was not as good. My residence room which was home for most of the year was small and uncomfortable. We actually had to duct tape the seams of the windows in the winter because the heating couldn't keep up with the drafts. I started a job that took me an hour away from school for 25 hours a week (plus the 8 or so hours of transit time back and forth. The combination of work and homework left me with little time free for other people. I spent a lot of time outside of work either alone or with Amanda. 

I got a job because I needed money to pay for school, but money meant that I couldn't spend time with people. Spending time with people is the whole reason I got into pastoral ministry in the first place and so taking that away made me miserable for most of the year. I didn't see how to get out of the cycle of feeling miserable.


Some people told me I should probably quit work. This was some kind of revelation when it was first suggested. Amanda and I got married this year which meant my student loan was now large enough to pay for all my school fees. Quitting work meant less money, but I could survive without it. This past week I took a deep breath and told my boss that I would be leaving at the end of September. I'm a little sad to be leaving. I work with good people and I know that things can be hard there sometimes. I've also learned so much in my time there that I hadn't known before. It was a good job, but it's time to move on.

So to answer your original question, school this past year was lonely and busy but things are looking up for this coming year.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Do you ever get homesick?"

Hello new reader. Or at least I assume you must be a new reader if you're asking these kinds of questions. After all, asking that question implies that you missed an three month trip to California that was followed by the sweetest homecoming I have ever experienced.

I will give you the benefit of the doubt here. I get homesick. I get incredible homesick. I get so homesick that I can't sleep the night before I'm heading home because sleep comes so slowly when I am away from home and it seems quicker to wake up and just wait for it instead of trying to fall asleep. Plus sleep means the possibility of dreaming of being home and those are dreams that are just too cruel to wake from.

I've moved 6 times in the last 5 years though so what is home even anymore? Where do I get homesick? When I was a kid, I used to get homesick at summer camp or at the cottage. I'd miss my friends and my toys. I would miss the familliar rooms and senses of my parents house and my own bed. Foreign textures kept me up at night in a state of anxiety. I needed to get back home so I could have the things and people that I knew back. I needed to get back to a place where I understood everything. I don't understand things away from home very much.

I'm meandering. Home can be anywhere familiar. After a year of full time work, camp feels like home (although that feeling is fading now that I'm not there very much). After a few short months there, my apartment on princess street felt like home in Kingston. My current apartment in Toronto with my wife felt like home before I ever moved there. I could go on. My residence room never felt like home.

But I should get to a definition. All of these places share somthing. All of them are places and people that let me be who I am without putting up all the guards and walls. When I can sit at home with the door open and no anxiety about who might walk through the door, that is home. When I can sit down and play guitar without fear of someone yelling at me through the wall, that is home. When I can talk to anyone home at a given time, that is home.

Home is the place with the people who let you express yourself most completely. All of your broken, confused, and lovely characteristics on display for all to see. That's what I get sick for.

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Where did you go?"

I needed to get out of the city for a bit. There are some really great things in Toronto. For example I can go watch a Blue Jays game for the same price as a movie and watch a team that is legitimately playing amazing right now. There are also a handful of people there who I have missed deeply and am really enjoying getting to see and visit with consistently. Plus my wife lives there so that's a big plus.

But there are things about it that are not so great. I mentioned my frustrations with the night bus before and I think that's a general problem with Toronto that just gets amplified at night. Most people in Toronto fit into two categories. They are either silent or wildly unpredictable. There is very little middleground to be had in a city where minding your own business is often the only way to stem the tide of information coming in the door.

I went back to camp for a week. I have a particular attachement to this place and its people. They took me in when I was in a jam after wanting to leave school. They gave me some direction and purpose while I lived with my parents and decided what steps to take next. This week is always a difficult one for them so I wanted to come help.

It's a little different now. I'm in a different stage of life and so coming back to camp is not exactly like I remember anymore. There's a different crowd of people, a different mix in the schedule, and a dampening of excitement. It's not quite the same, but it's good. The country air has been good for me, and people force me to think about what I'm going through when they ask me how my year has been. Telling people about the things you think to yourself has a wonderful way of showing what you're confident about and what you're concerned about.

It's hard to talk to people in the city. I am constantly assaulted by feelings of inadequacy from those around me. I'm told it's a Toronto thing. I've read a few articles of immigrants to Toronto who talk about people only wanting to talk to you if you have something for them or if you are somehow famous. All of this brings up strongly cultivated feelings of inadequacy that make me afraid to talk to those who don't "need me".

I have a hard time believing that people legitimately just want to spend time with me. I always feel like they're looking for something. Sometimes people come to me because I'm the only one willing to help in a specific situation, but then things improve and they seem to disappear as soon as they arrived only to return when things get difficult again.

There's probably an element of self-fulfilling prophecies in all of this. People don't need me so I assume they don't want to talk to me so we no longer talk so we lose touch, only to come back together when they need me again because I feel a legitimate sense of connection. There's a lesson with some application in here somewhere. I'll continue looking for it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"Will you come to my party?"

That's a complicated question that has to do with two separate issues, one of which is alcohol and the other is my being a quiet person. The alcohol is probably more easily explained as first.

I was raised in a dry house. I grew up in a church where no one spoke about alcohol and went to several schools where discussions of "getting drunk" or "those who get drunk" were stories told about rare alcoholics and crazy people. I could probably count the number of times alcohol came out at family gatherings on my fingers and my toes, and it was almost exclusively a bottle of wine shared amongst many people. Drinking was this strange and foreign concept to me as a kid.

Imagine my surprise when I reached adult-hood and discovered that it's actually a little different than I was led to believe. Alcohol is everywhere and is not the "forbidden fruit" that I was always told it was. I met a number of Christians who had no problems with drinking the occasional beer, and I too discovered that beer is delicious.

When I reached university, I also discovered that if you didn't drink, you weren't gonna make any friends. Any meaningful social interactions occurred with beers and cocktails in hand whether it was in a red cup, a pint glass, or one of those cheap paper shot cups that the kids make jello shooter in. I found this difficult. I was comfortable having a beer in a pub with another person and I still cherish that type of interaction above most others, but I'm not comfortable with binge drinking. Getting drunk is not something I enjoy, and to be honest I see no value in it as an experience. When I go out and have beer, my intention is always to remember the entire evenings events and in the times when I have gone to far I feel stupid the next morning and resolve to avoid it in the future.

It just seems like a waste of time. Life on this earth is a series of experiences that get stored in your memory to shape how you see and respond to the future. If you can't remember what happened, didn't you just waste that time? It's gone and you're never going to get it back. I don't see any payoff other than an escape from whatever is going on in the moment.

There's a proverb somewhere that says "some drink to remember, some drink to forget". I'm definitely in the former category and I have no idea how to respond to the latter.

But alcohol reduces social inhibitions in the appropriate quantities. If people start drinking, eventually they start talking. It makes things less awkward. People use it in university because it gives a common activity that almost everyone shares, and it allows people to more comfortably express their personalities. Loud girls get louder, bros get more...bro like, quiet kids start to open up a bit. It's what makes parties fun. Have you ever gone to a party or gone out with friends and been the only sober one? Did you notice how uncomfortable the whole thing was? That's the magic of alcohol.

I'm a pretty quiet person. I mumble to myself, guild things in double and triple layers of sarcasm so that I can't be hurt. I ask people questions and hold a lot inside because I'm worried about sounding stupid. If I go to your party, it's probably just going to involve going somewhere and talking. Will I know everyone at your party? If I won't then I'm afraid I won't know what to say. Is conversation forced and awkward between me and those present at the party? I don't really want to spend 3 hours of my weekend at a party where I just end up sitting and listening to everyone's stories as they talk enthusiastically about their interesting lives while I sit there and wonder what to say.

People at work have started inviting me to stuff. I always answer with hesitancy and non-commitment. They are all great people who work hard and are friendly and we all get along in that context, but at work I have business to hide behind. There are things to do so we can fill the spaces that would normally be filled with silence. I can deal with that. I like that kind of party. The party where you're actually doing something else. But I'm afraid of going to your party because it's a recipe for social discomfort. It's nothing personal, I'm just really insecure and I happen to have an uncomfortable relationship with the drug that might ease that discomfort.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

When I was a little kid I wanted to be a hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I never actually watched hockey, I had never played hockey, and I had no understanding of what being a hockey player involved but these things did not prevent me from wanting to be Doug Gilmour. I have absolutely no idea where this came from now. Somewhere around 10 I realized that this wasn't going to happen. I weighed 40 pounds and was far and away the shortest boy in my class (there was this one girl who was shorter than me...).

I've changed what I wanted to do with my life so many times. Actually that's not true. I've never really had my heart set on any particular career. I like working and I like it when that work is interesting, but I don't really care what I do as long as I'm doing something. You can't tell people this though. If you tell people you want to do anything, people smile and then walk away (ok maybe that's a bit over-dramatic, but people have given me strange looks when I've given this answer before). You have to give some kind of stock answer so that people feel like there's some sort of plan to your life where you can see yourself doing something in the future.

This is a great idea because plans are good, but it starts to fall apart when the economy is crap and the most common economic news you read is "high youth unemployment and underemployment". You start looking at the world around you and wondering if all the money you are using to pay for school (whether its yours or your parent's or the government's or the bank's...) is really a sound investment.

I started doing this when I started with my undergrad. I was thinking about doing a B.Mus when I applied to schools. "I'm going to be a music teacher!" was the stock answer for about a year. Then I started looking at the uncertain economy, and the fact that Ontario was graduating something like 400 extra teachers for which there were no jobs every year and I thought that was a bad idea. I switched to a biology program. This was a good idea because it provided me with options.

Options which I considered for varying lengths of time during my undergrad included Medical school, dental school, Graduate studies in Biology, and Law school. Those sound like good ideas, but at this point in my life I was introduced into the problem of being average. There are a lot of people in university. Because there are a lot of people in university, more of those people are really smart and/or have really good work ethic. That means that when you look at grade average cutoffs for things like Dental school (82), medical school (90+), law school (80+), and an honours thesis in Biology (80 something) and you have 72 average over the course of your average undergraduate career, all of those doors quickly slam shut in your face. So much for those options.

I didn't really enjoy studying science anyways though. I'm pretty reductionist at times. Things are the way they are and I don't like to make a big deal about asking interesting questions or trying to figure stuff out so the intricacies of those professional programs would probably not have worked out for me so well (at least that's what I tell myself when I see med students studying in the coffee shop where I work so that I don't get jealous and/or angry). 3 years into my undergrad, I decided to cut my losses and graduate. I had enough credits for a bachelor's (one thing I was good at was picking courses and fulfilling requirements early...) so I left school, moved in with my parents and started working at camp.

Oh yeah, that job was pretty sweet. I loved what I did, I worked in a challenging environment, I worked with great people, I got stable hours and predictable time off, and I got to live with my two wonderful parents in a really nice part of Southern Ontario. I may be looking back on the experience with rose coloured glasses but with the possible exception of living far away from my fiancee at the time (now wife) that was probably the best job ever. You're probably wondering why I'm not still doing that right? Well the truth is that when you come upon a dream job it often is too good to be true. In this case the camp I was working for had run into some financial difficulties because of the recession and could no longer afford to retain as many of its full time staff. Layoffs began and it was clear that I would not be able to continue working there any longer than the one year that I was contracted for.

Because of a number of life events, including a now legendary job in California, I decided I should pursue work with people. Without an interest in science, it seemed the best way to do this was to look at seminary work. I had spent some time helping a church plant and had lots of experience with talking to people at camp so I thought it might be a good fit. I packed my bags and headed to Toronto to pursue seminary studies at an evangelical seminary with no denominational affiliation.

Now I'm there and having completed my first year I'm sitting here in the summer, newly married and wondering how this is all going to work. I chose a non-denominational seminary which meant it was easy to get into, but it also means that my prospects for employment are more complicated. A full time pastoral job will probably require more school than my super expensive 3 year M.Div. and even then there's no guarantee that I'll actually find a posting. Stories from classmates about difficulties finding internships make me question whether this is such a good idea, and my growing student debt load makes me think about my financial future more seriously. I'm married, and I don't want this pile of debt following me around and stressing me out while I wonder where I'm supposed to find a job.

Which makes me think about if I should get out and start looking at something else. The government keeps telling me that there are lots of jobs in the trades if I'm willing to work through an apprenticeship. They make this somewhat easy by providing you with just enough information to sort of figure out what to do and that makes the prospect of an apprenticeship awful enticing. Make money while learning how to do your job? Work while learning how to work? That sounds a lot less like a waiting room and a lot more like actually living life.

I'm conflicted though. I've been giving everyone the stock answer over the course of my life and now I'm talking about changing. I'm not sure I can handle more conversations of confusion that begin with "but I thought you wanted to be...". I know that other people probably shouldn't be the biggest factor in my decision to change career tracks, but they are a factor.

So to answer the question, I want to be someone who works when I grow up I'm just not sure how to get there.

Monday, June 10, 2013

"How did you get to work today?"

I rode by bike to work today. There are a number of things that are notable about this. The first is that I am poor. The second is that I dislike public transit (sort of). The third is the weather today. The fourth is how I got my bike.

I'm not really poor. I'm first world poor. That means I don't have to worry about making rent or where my groceries are coming from, but I always seem to run out of money just before payday. People spend according to their means so I guess I just fit the trend there, but it bothers me greatly. I feel like I should be able to make better use of my resources and so when I realized I was shelling out $100 a month for transit, I decided to get rid of that cost by biking to work. Biking means I don't need a transit pass or a car or money to take a cab, and yet I don't have to move closer to work. I already had my bike here anyways so the move to commute by bike was started by a desire to have that extra $100 a month.

But that's not the only reason. Because I have to be at work for 5:30, most mornings I can't use the subway (it doesn't start running until 6 AM which is so inconvenient for those of us who have to be at work at an ungodly hour). This means that I have to take the night bus.

Most Torontonians have horror stories about people they've met on the subway or that time when someone got stabbed while trying to stop someone else from harassing other passenger, but these stories are relatively uncommon. Not so on the night bus. Pretty much every day there is some person who looks like they might go off and shank you right there in the middle of the bus. Either that or there's some guy who's just coming back from the clubs the night before and he's loud and hopped up on Cocaine or whatever was the drug of choice for the evening.

On the subway, you can usually get far enough away from these kinds of people to feel safe or you can just get off at a random stop and wait for the next train. Not so on the night bus. It is ALWAYS 5 PM rush hour crowded and the buses only come every 20 minutes so you could be waiting a long time for the next bus which would make you late for your job which starts at an ungodly hour. All of this makes me very much inclined to find an alternative route to work, which means I take my bike.

But there are occasionally problems with this plan. Even though I get to work faster by bike than I do by transit, it means I am exposed. Most days that means I have to worry about the sun (which is not so bad) but today it meant riding through a torrential downpour. This is problematic because my rain gear is split between my house and my parents house so I don't have rain pants here, which means my pants get soaked on the way to work. I have also been working on some extensive maintenance on my bike and haven't had a chance to install any fenders so rain gets thrown on my back and my face in nice straight lines through the course of the whole ride. Not very comfortable. All of this meant that today I arrived at work with the backs of my knees dry and not much else. It was quite a site.

I am glad that I have a bike to ride though. It's been a labour of love ever since I got it. The bike I ride is reasonably nice. It's got an aluminum frame, some solid click shifters and disc breaks which are nice, but it also had some serious wear and tear on it when I bought it. Bought is probably the wrong term. I traded a Playstation 3 for it in front of an apartment building. The guy I did the trade with was about twice my height and twice my width. I would later find out that he treated the bike he traded my quite rough and I have slowly had to work through replacing most of the mechanical bits (All the drive train, brake pads, deurailer cables, pedals, and tires). I could say that it's been expensive and not worth it, but really I've learned to take care of my own bike and in that time I've developed a strong attachment to my bike. I appreciate it because I know how much work it's taken to get it back on the road and running properly and it will be hard to get rid of it if that day ever comes.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Reflection

Sometimes I hesitate to write on here because it feels narcissistic. What I mean by that is that writing here feels selfish and self-fulfilling in a way that really benefits no one. What purpose do my reflections on my own life serve for anyone else? Sometimes I don't know. I always try to share thoughts that are easy to articulate and that seem interesting and coherent. Because of the nature of my though process, most of those thoughts end up being about my personal experience.

This week I had some time off and I was struck by how automatic my behaviour became. Everything was about doing something to "relax". Play this video game, watch this movie, do these dishes, don't think about unhappy things. I spent time going from task to task in an effort to distract myself from what was a very difficult week. In the middle of it, I realized that I was avoiding any sort of meaningful reflection. I was busy doing things, but I had not thought about how I was feeling or why I was acting the way I was acting. On top of that I started to be really selfish and lazy, which I'm sure my wife noticed particularly. I just wanted to sit on the couch for well beyond what would have been considered a reasonable amount of time.

I write about myself on here a lot, but I use those posts to reflect on life. I don't just do things and then toss the experience and move on to the next thing. I reflect on it and share my thoughts about it in an effort to connect with others in some way and maybe get a better understanding of what I should be doing in my life and how I can help solve problems and fix difficult behaviours.

I've taken all of this time to conclude that there is a distinct difference between reflection and narcissism. One says "I am the centre of the universe", while the other says "why do I feel this way in the universe". Reflection is a powerful tool for change when one uses it properly.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Helping, But Also Hindering

Sometimes homeless people come into our store. Wait....It's been a while. I think I've forgotten how to write a story properly. Let me start at the beginning.

I work at a coffee shop. It's a wonderful business where you make money by selling legal drugs to people (caffeine that is). All sorts of people come into the store. There are doctors, lawyers, dental students, weary travelers, university undergrads, and taxi drivers. Sometimes they're happy, sometimes they're not.

Sometimes homeless people come into our store. The reasons for their homelessness vary. Some of them are clearly mentally ill, and conversations with them are surreal and confusing. Some of them appear to have substance abuse problems and you're never sure how they will respond. Some have both mixed in with some trouble with the law.

I have a lot of history with homeless people. I spent a year living in a community where one of our core goals was to meet and help homeless people in Kingston and so I'm not unfamiliar with the workings of homelessness. That being said, when I started this job, I figured this would be the most significant challenge of working at this place because I am afraid of homeless people. Call it fear of the unknown or insecurity, but I get heart-pounding-mouth-drying fear whenever I see them.
This runs right into my convictions about being a Christian. Jesus says "Whatever you do for the least of these you do for me". If I'm afraid of homeless people then by extension I am afraid of Jesus. Not exactly a person I want to be afraid of if I'm hoping to spend the rest of eternity with him. I'm trying to get rid of this fear now. I want to be more compassionate towards every person that comes into the store.

It's complicated though. My personal convictions are not shared by everyone else in the store. It doesn't help that homeless people treat some of my coworkers like shit. Sometimes when I'm trying to "do the right thing" it ends up turning into an incident that someone else has to clean up. My coworkers end up having to kick people out or calling the cops on someone that I was trying to be nice to. Every time it happens I'm immediately sorry I tried to do anything. I want to be compassionate, but at the same time I don't want other people to have to clean up my messes.

It would be nice if helping people was simple. Instead, I'm stuck trying to figure out how to help people without stomping all over other people.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Questions

I was watching the HBO special Talking Funny where a bunch of really successful comedians sit down and talk about their philosophy of comedy and why they do what they do. Ricky Gervais presented a very stubborn approach to the topic. From his comments, you get the sense that he doesn't want to do anything in comedy if the only reason for doing it is to make other people laugh. He wants to write jokes and bits that come from within him, and if he's fortunate enough then enough people will like it and he can become successful.

As I was reading this, I picked through my twitter feed and my blog comments. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I produce that people respond to. Selfishly I want to produce things that people either enjoy or find insightful in some way. I want people to be able to make use of whatever content I end up using (maybe that's not selfish, maybe it's just trying to avoid wasted effort). In the last couple of months I've spent a lot of time paying attention to what kinds of things people respond to and engage with on twitter and on here.

I have noticed a trend that actually goes back a long ways. The things that I produce that I have the most confidence in, and the things that I produce that get the most feedback are questions. Sometimes I ask a question that drives me crazy and lots of people respond to it because it's exactly what they were thinking, and they also want to know the answer. This used to be the only way I could talk about the bible. I would present a scripture passage and then ask a question and then walk away. That's where I have confidence as a content creator.

I have noticed a problem with this. I don't get the same response from answers as I do from questions. When I write about lessons I've learned, or things that I think people should know, I get less response than when I just ask questions. I also have less confidence in what I'm writing. I second guess myself because it sounds preachy or declarative. I don't feel good about giving answers.

This is a problem. Some of the questions I ask have been overwhelmingly popular. The most popular thing I've ever written continues to be the post What do normal people talk about. When I even think about writing a follow-up post though, I am filled with a sense of failure. Whatever I write in response to that question, it doesn't carry the same weight as the question. It will never garner as much attention.

I think we've become obsessed with questions and sick of answers.

Friday, February 15, 2013

A Life Lesson from Euchre

Life doesn't always turn out how you envision it. When you're a kid, you have a lot of ideas about what the world will be like. You start thinking about who your spouse will be, you imagine what kind of job you might have, you think about what it will be like to have a job. When you're a kid, you have so little information about the world that anything seems possible. I remember when I was a kid I wanted to be a hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some people in my life told me I probably wasn't big enough to be a hockey player. I didn't really understand what they meant being a kid and all. I just wanted to wear the blue sweater and have people look up to me like I looked up to Doug Gilmour.

When you get older, you get more information. You learn that the average NHL player is six feet tall and weighs two hundred pounds, and you learn that those guys start playing when they're five and they never stop. The world develops reality and you start matching your skills with the things that you might do. Hopefully you end up with a winning combination.

I live in the second stage most of the time. When people talk about possible career paths to me, I usually scoff because of this "information" that I have. I don't usually tell them that I'm scoffing, but It's down there sometimes. Maybe you do this too. Maybe the reality of the world around you has finally gotten to you.

My family plays Euchre a lot. It's a pretty simple game (once you understand the order of the cards...). You get your hand and you go around the table to see who chooses what suit will become the strongest. Usually you want to pick a suit that you have lots of good cards in. If you know the right information you can play a mathematically solid game of euchre, but that's no fun. You're just following the rules. Sometimes I like to choose the strongest suit even if it doesn't seem like a good idea, and even if I have poor cards. You never know what will happen in a hand of Euchre and that's my philosophy on the game. I want to see the most interesting hands play out. I want to see some ways of winning that don't just involve holding all the highest cards.

There's a life lesson here. All my scoffing might make me sort of happy or sort of successful, but scoffing won't bring any surprises. There will be no moments in my life where I say "I never could have imagined this" if I just play it safe. The same goes for anyone. Sometimes we make strange choices. Making those strange choices opens up a whole realm of possibilities that we never could have imagined.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Fixing" Mental Health

Yesterday was "Bell Let's Talk" day where Bell Canada offered to donate 5 cents for every text, long distance call, and tweet with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk. It was intended to get people to talk about mental health issues, and also to raise some money for mental health initiatives while giving Bell some good publicity.

I tweeted something with the hashtag in the morning, mostly just to raise 5 cents. A friend sent me a text message later asking about the initiative. She said that she thought it was a good idea, but at the same time she didn't see anyone talking about mental health issues. We started talking a little bit about it and ended up in an interesting place.

One of the issues with mental health is that people feel like they can't talk about it without judgement or teasing. There's a "stigma" attached to it (which is a way of saying there is all this baggage attached to talking about it). If we could figure out how to get rid of this stigma then they might be more comfortable with seeking help and talking to other people about their struggles.

I wanted a simple answer to the solution. I wanted her to tell me that I should do A, and then the problem would be fixed. I wanted to ask everyone how they are doing and try and figure out who was suffering and extract the information from them.  This is not the path she recommended.

She said that people who are not suffering from mental illness need to create an environment where people who are suffering feel comfortable sharing. This is not a simple task. It will require careful attention to our language and our attitudes. It is a holistic approach to the problem and not a one issue fix. This is why it is probably the correct solution.

"We're very complicated beings" she said

"True" I replied

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Dark Side of Irony

Most of what I write is crap. If I were to sit down and write everything that popped into my head, no one would read this. As it is my sporadic updates make for an audience of only the most die hard fans. I read an article about the importance of irony to millenials (the fancy name for people who are currently in their twenties). Irony (if it truly is irony) allows millenial to counter insults and criticism by being aware that what they're doing is not perfect, and making that avoidance the point of any activity.

For example, when I write songs (I know, for a guy who doesn't write much I sure talk about writing a lot) I will often make a piece of music that is intentionally bad. Then when someone listens to my music, I don't have to worry about being criticized because what I wrote is supposed to be terrible. Then even if someone did criticize, I'd be able to make fun of them for not "getting it". It gets a bit tiring though. You are always thinking of how your work and actions will be perceived and then you construct things in a way that deflects criticism. There's not much chance for honesty, and when there is it's usually gilded in sarcasm.

Self awareness comes at a price.

 P.S. For fun, go back through earlier blogs and find points where I try to preempt criticism with irony or self awareness. Examples abound.