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.