Category Archives: General Rants

The Fallacy of Focusing on National Figureheads

Vitriol is an odd thing. And I hate being the guy who writes about the “social media age” like it’s this thing that appeared in the last couple of years. Even before Facebook, early adopters of online communication remember the glory days of website forums, chat rooms, and other social media sites that existed long before we had the term social media (most people remember Myspace, fellow Edmontonians remember Nexopia). But, despite sounding like a clueless blogger, the social media age has reared an excessive amount of vitriol from the public. I’ve covered this before in other essays and it seems to be a topic I’m fixated on. I don’t know why I’m so fixated on it. Early adopters of forums can remember the all-caps ranters and trolls long before it became a topic of social media etiquette. It’s the focus and targets of this vitriol that’s fascinating me today.

The current US leader is obviously on the receiving end of a lot of this online aggression and that’s quickly becoming old news (though a lot of what’s going on around him continues to be fascinating), so I want to focus on my homeland of Canada, and specifically the current hate-campaigns towards our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In my last open letter, I brushed on the fact that public opinion of him has been dropping. The online comments towards him and his activities have been looking more and more, well, American as of late. But he’s also been the target of some odd criticism.

One thing I’ve noted that he’s been criticized a lot about has been his international presence. The fact that he’s been an active diplomat for Canada has resulted in this odd argument that he doesn’t actually care about Canadians and he’s doing nothing for us. This is very odd for a lot of reasons. The first being that a major part of the job of Prime Minister is having that international diplomat presence. A world leader has to interact with the world.

The second odd thing about this is this assumption that if the Prime Minister is working on something international, then he’s clearly doing nothing domestic. The Federal Government is made up of a lot more people than just the Prime Minister. In fact, as of 2016, 258,979 people have been employed in some sort of Federal Public Service and 197,354 people are employed in that core administration of Federal Public Service. That’s a lot of people and believe me not all of them are working on the same international missions that Trudeau has been publicly working on. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that a very large majority of these 197,354 core administration and 258,979 Federal Public Service workers are focused on domestic issues.

There’s one very specific online incident that this brings to mind. There was a story that came out about a financial pledge Trudeau made for an international issue (what the issue was escapes me and at this time I’m having difficulty finding the exact story that was cited). The individual who posted about it expressed that the money that was being pledged for this international effort would be better used domestically for homeless issues. This would be a valid argument, if the current Federal Government wasn’t the first Federal Government in many years to be developing a national housing strategy. In fact, only weeks before this post came across my social media feed, the Federal Government released $12.6 billion to municipal foundations for affordable housing. Edmonton organizations alone received $18.2 million. Yet, this significant amount of funding wasn’t mentioned once during the entire social media based debate. All that was focused on was the fact that the Trudeau government was giving funds to other countries.

I could speculate endlessly about why important information about an issue that this individual obviously cares about would be so blatantly missed. It got plenty of news coverage, both online and on television, and plenty of elected officials took part in major public announcements. But, none of those elected officials were Prime Minister Trudeau.

Are we treating world leaders the way we treat celebrities now? Think about the way most people watch movies. The focus is placed on the major star power driving the film’s cast. Sometimes, we focus on the directly. Rarely, we focus on the writer. Sometimes there’s even a focus on the special effects studio. But never do we focus on set designers, make-up artists, production assistants, editors, grips, camera technicians, or the hundreds of other critical roles that go into a film. The same is becoming true for government. All we can see are the leaders, totally forgetting how much more goes into any governmental body.

If you’re looking to leaders to represent your interests, you’re looking in all the wrong places. Further, we don’t need leaders. We need representation. And this is how our governmental system is actually set up. Unless the leaders are picking fights with other countries or moving on motions that will drastically change the organizational structure of a country, the actions of the leaders are typically highly inconsequential.

The motions and activities that the government tends to move on stems from the local representatives: the Senators, Ministers, Members of Parliament (MP), and on the provincial level the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). Even the City Councils can have some sway with the Federal Government. That $16.2 billion being released for affordable housing organizations was a major ask by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which is Chaired by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Leaders don’t typically make unilaterally decisions on motions and Acts.

Everything that goes through government stems from motions drafted by MPs and MLAs, which reflect the interest of their constituents. With this in mind, it can be argued that yelling at the Prime Minister or the Premier or the President over Facebook is kind of an utter waste of time. If you want to see real change being made in government, contact your local MLAs, MPs, and even City Councillors. They are the voices in the ear of governments and they are the one who actually spur change. Not the leaders.

I would argue something similar for our southern neighbours. By no means am I going to say something like, “Just give the guy a chance, he might be really good.” But, what I will stress is that you shouldn’t focus your attention on trying to get his attention. Instead, look to your back yard. Who is your senator? Your governor? Who represents you in Washington? Those are the questions you should be asking and those are the elected officials who you should be focusing your attention on. The guy in the White House will never hear you, never pay attention to you, and frankly does not care. But your local elected officials do care and they will hear you. Get your local governors and senators on your side and you can do a lot more in Washington than you ever could by criticizing anyone on Facebook.

Again, we don’t need leaders. We need representations. And that’s how our government is structured. But we keep forgetting that. If you want to create social change, stop looking to leaders and start looking in your back yard.

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Ever the Optimist

This idea for an essay all started when I had a long conversation with someone at my office one day about, of all things, people. In a very large and general sense, people and where their motivations lie and if people, in the construct of a mass group, actually have any motivation driven by virtue as opposed to self-interest. She was a bit younger than me, 24 to my 30, not many years on paper but a lifetime to live through. And not to discredit her position based solely on her age, but much of what she said sounded very familiar to me. It reminded me of my own youthful pessimism.

This might be an odd construct, typically youth is paralleled with idealism and age tends to follow realism and pessimism closely behind. My growing up experience was different, especially while I was in college. Living off a healthy diet of Propagandhi records and Henry Rollins books, I was a ball of over-academic rage who wrote open letters to Glenn Beck and Thomas Lukaszuk, convinced these public figures with differing opinions of me were my mortal enemies and were cowardly for not engaging in intellectual debate.

Teeth clenched and knuckles white from tight fists, I devoured hours of MSNBC during the Wisconsin protests when Governor Scott Walker tried to make unions illegal, when Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona, and during the Republican Party primaries. With consuming this much media, it’s easy to understand why my view of people, especially people in masses, quickly deteriorated. My optimism grew during the Occupy months, but when I started hearing the oratory rhetoric of some of the self-claimed leaders of the sit in, I quickly realized this demonstration grew directionless and became a self-parody, and once again I was left questioning the motives and virtues of people.

This is where this particular individual was at the time of this conversation. She was still angry. And this anger fed into her views of people. And worse, when I tried to counter her argument, pointing out all the good and amazing things people are capable of, she called me naive.

I don’t think my optimism is grounded in any naivety. I’m far from a well-versed expert on the world and even farther from the kind of person whose wisdom stems of years of experience. I haven’t even been out of university for that long. But my university writing life had me exploring the failings of so many prevalent aspects of society: the failures of truly supporting the arts, the failures of big-agriculture, the failures of luxury commodities that I as a true writer and artist would never be able to afford. My post-university writing life has me exploring the small seeds of social change being planted into the ground and slowly growing to seamlessly create new standards and normals in western culture. From my magazine internship, through my freelance career, and into my current career working with not-for-profits, I’m faced every day with individuals and groups working off of a crazy notion that what they do might make things better for someone else.

Hearing about the awesome things people are working on is kind of rare. Good news stories aren’t all that sexy and people are more drawn to the kinds of stories where someone is murdered, someone is arrested, or someone is the centre of a scandal. Those are the kinds of stories that garner clicks and earn online publication advertising revenue. I was impressed when Metro newspaper put out an all positive edition of their press across Canada to battle against the influx of click-bait news headlines and may be the start of a different approach to print and online publications. That’s not to say that online publications who focus on more positive outlooks to news stories don’t exist, but the old adage about news stories, “if it bleeds, it leads,” despite being a gross stereotype, still resonates for a reason.

This idea about the kinds of news stories that tend to garner the most attention I also find stands with online comment feeds in the stories. I usually take the time to read the comments, even from online news sources that I know is biased and slanted. I want to know what people think and how they react to things. Especially in my role as a professional communicator in my real job, knowing how people approach and will respond to stories and information is fascinating to me. At the same time, though, I have to question if comment feeds are the best places to be gauging public discourse. On the surface, it seems like the best place to view the activity of the masses. But, I have to question, what proportion of the masses do the comment feeds represent?

After reading through so many comment feeds, you start to see recurring names and recurring messaging. Spam bots are commonplace nowadays and it doesn’t take much to program a system to automatically comment on certain newsfeeds. This is why you see CAPTCHA fields as a part of some news sites’ comments requirements. Those without the CAPTCHA fields are obvious with comments from anonymous users either trying to sell Oakley sunglasses or repeating certain politically slanted messaging on multiple stories.

From my own explorations of comment feeds, once you filter through the robots, I realized that those who sit on online news stories, placing controversial comments onto stories and anxiously waiting for the replies they can refute with name-calling and reductions to political affiliations, represent a very small proportion of people involved in public discourse.

My optimism points pushes me to believe that the vast majority of people don’t comment on stories or share news stories to their Facebook feeds looking for arguments simply because they are far too busy working to make the world a better place. They don’t have time to sit on online news stories. They don’t care what other people think about their political views. But, they do occasionally read what others post and this can skew their viewpoints. I empathize with these people, though. Because they approach things with only the best of intentions.

I pride myself in being culturally inclusive and open and curious. I try to go out of my way to ask questions rather than pass judgments. This approach has led me to a lot of really great conversations and learning experiences I carry with me to this day. I’m from perfect and it took a lot of embarrassing and shameful moments on my own part to help me develop this philosophical approach to cultural aspects I don’t understand a lot about. Not everyone approaches things this way, and by no means is this the best approach for everyone, but not asking questions is what creates things like confirmation bias and can create an air of xenophobia that can cause a lot more damage than good.

When you consume media and you only see small snippets of things that seem foreign and unknown to you, it can be scary. When people are scared, they rationalize odd things. But at the end of the day, this fear is coming from a genuine place of care and concern. They care and are concerned for their children, their community, their country, so they react fearfully and, often times, aggressively to the unknown. It’s a misinformed reaction that could be quelled by an open mind and a willingness to ask questions as opposed to blurting out opinions. But it being misinformed doesn’t change that it comes from a place of genuine concern and care.

Even with all the hateful rhetoric and actions I frequently see through news stories and in comment feeds, I try to stop myself from my own fearful reactions and force myself to ask why. Why is this person saying this? Why does this person think this way? What information could this person use to help ensure that he is forming the best informed opinion possible? And I know I can’t be the only one asking myself these questions.

I am ever the optimist about people. I don’t know if this person from my office will ever let go of her anger and pessimism and it’s not particularly my place to judge either way. I do hope she sees all the amazing things in the world that I see. In my own attempts in working to make the world a better place, I’m going to keep asking questions, trying to understand everything I possibly can and try to foster dialogue and discussion over forming opinions and drafting diatribes. Because I know the vast majority of people come from good places with everything that they do.

I don’t think the archetype of the super villain who wakes up each morning to plot their evil and hostile takeover is nearly as prevalent as the amateur political pundits on comment feeds would have you believe. I think people are continually scared of an ever-changing world that leaves them confused as to what to think. Even my own essaying now is really just a tool to help me sort out my own thoughts, redirect me, and refresh my path. It helps to remind me to continually approach everything, and especially people, with the utmost understanding and optimism.

On Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Address

It’s not often that I want to chime in on current affairs that already have a deafening amount of noise surrounding them. But it’s that level of noise that actually made me want to chime in. It seems like this is one of those scenarios where everyone wants to yell something, but everything being yelled is being muddled by the collective uproar on both sides on the controversy. By this line of reasoning, it seems apt to use this forum as a means to express a few more ideas about this scenario while hopefully cutting through the noise and having a clear message make its way through the chaos.

The controversy I’m jotting down ideas about is Meryl Streep’s address at the Golden Globes. But, not so much the address itself as the public backlash that followed. Some are cheering loudly. Others are resorting to pointing out her age and physical features as a means to under credit her stance. What I want to know is why is there a backlash at all? And further, much of the backlash has to do with the fact that Ms. Streep is an actor and that celebrities should leave politics out of their public appearances. This also seems to only be an argument used when said celebrity seems to disagree with your political stance. So, why should celebrities be barred from using their public platforms as a means to direct political messaging, even if the message can be boiled down to something as simple as, “please be decent to each other.”

I have to wonder if Ms. Streep were a writer, would she be receiving the same backlash? Obviously, it’s a writers job to perceive, interpret, reflect, develop ideas, and share those ideas through language. Many of those ideas being shared have to do with the political sphere, and as such it’s a generally accepted view that part of a writer’s job is to comment on the politics of the day, especially if they are columnists or essayists for publications with a focus on politics. But it’s even generally accepted that fiction writers use their craft as a means to reflect society and the politics that help shape society. We generally accepted this from writers such as George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, and even JK Rowling. The question remains, if Ms. Streep were a writer, would her comments be more accepted as a legitimate political stance?

There is some difficulty for me separating actor from writer. They have vastly different jobs on the surface, and there is a very odd preconceived notion that actors are generally very dumb people, but when you boil down what both creative professions do, you simply land on what the role art has to play in the world. Actors have to create characters, convey those characters, and place themselves in situations that generally they have never experienced before. Those characters they are larger reflections of society, including the political sphere that influences society, and as such create connections with the viewers. This is why we find movies and television entertaining. We see ourselves in the characters portrayed by actors. In much the same way we identify with stories and arguments put forward by writers, we identify with character, which gives them their reflective weight as an entertainment medium.

With that being said, it takes the same skillset of perception, interpretation, and reflection that a writer exercises to be a good actor. It’s the same understanding of people and what influences people to act and react that helps an actor create a believable character that reflects and connects with us. Therefore, we can accept that to be an actor, especially an actor of the calibre as Ms. Streep takes a great deal of intelligence.

So, if we can accept that an actor like Ms. Streep is intelligent, why not use her public platform as a means to convey her political ideas? Many of the current celebrities who do support the current political direction that the United States is taking aren’t often told to keep their political opinions to themselves from either side of the debate. Those who support actually encourage those celebrities to keep expressing their favour for the 2016 election results. Those who oppose simply express their opposition and may even go as far as to boycott the celebrities’ products. But it’s rare to see an argument from that opposition that would suggest the celebrity shouldn’t use their status to convey their ideas.

This is also something often seen in the current political correctness backlash. The argument is often made that “PC culture” has gone too far and that it’s a part of freedom of speech to be able to say objectionable things. This is true. But it’s also part of freedom of speech to be able to call out those who say objectionable things and point out why they’re objectionable. It’s not a form of censorship. It’s a dialogue. It’s exercising that freedom of speech has to be able to go both ways and that those who say objectionable things need to be accountable for their words and subsequent actions that those words may spur.

If we accept freedom of speech, we have to accept celebrities using their status to convey political ideas on any side of any argument. We can then respond to their opinions and if their opinions are highly objectionable we have the ability to boycott as a means of protest. But this is how dialogue is created and it’s through dialogue that collaboration is created, which then feeds into activity. This is why some governments fail. They refuse dialogue. They hold themselves to ideals and labels and refuse to collaborate and negotiate. This was clearly seen during the last American administration when the speaker of the house decided that his entire purpose as a politician was to block any motion set out by the President. All that does it creates an ideological stalemate, which in the end benefits nothing except the egos of the individuals.

What I found most curious in much of my reading around this topic is the inherent hypocrisy of many of those who criticized Ms. Streep. Many either actively voted for or expressed some support for the new American administration, which is headed by a celebrity who used his status to gain the highest office in the United States. Yet this fact seems to completely escape them and they turn their fury instead to the other celebrity who dared challenge their belief system.

On Partisan Political Polarization

Around four in the morning, I was woken up by a light in my bedroom. It was my fiancée’s cellphone. She was reading poll numbers from the most recent American presidential election. She was terrified at the prospect of the new American President and not necessarily how it will affect us, but how it’s going to affect so many of the Americans that his campaign targeted. We talked for a while about what this is all going to mean and what we think is going to happen. She was able to fall back asleep but I was awake for another couple of hours with my mind racing.

I did the worst thing I could possibly do in this situation. I checked Facebook. A lot of the anxiety that my fiancée was feeling was reflected in many of my online friends. I stared at my phone, continued reading, and felt myself getting more and more worked up over the new leader of a country I don’t even live in. And as I kept reading posts and news stories and comment feeds on news stories, I realized that what was worrying me wasn’t necessarily the new guy in power.

The new American President in-and-of-himself is actually nothing new and his novelty is something of a misnomer. As pointed out by commentators such as Adam Conover, the new President’s crudeness is light compared to that of Lyndon B. Johnson’s bathroom meetings and recorded phone conversations discussing his private regions. Even some of the new President’s political stances, such as his hard stance on law and order, simply echo the likes of Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs. There is a historical precedence with this most recent American presidential election but the precedence has less to do with the candidates and more to do with the electoral body itself.

The Republican nomination was won by a salesman. He sold himself and he sold some ideas to warrant being named on the ballot. But the ideas he sold were by-products of opportunism. He isn’t actually interested in the work that this office requires. He’s interested in the title. And to gain the title, he marketed himself initially to a base population, which then spread over time. The ideas of closed borders and racial profiling he presented during his campaign weren’t the scariest aspect of this election. The fact that the American population heard these ideas and said, “Yes, this is what a free country should look like,” is what’s actually scary.

This is where the historical precedent steps in. The population let itself be swayed by the kind of anger and ferocity that typically warrants itself to an all-caps Facebook post, and then forgotten. It was the creation of a non-existent conflict, the “us vs. them,” that made for a more hard lined voting mentality that eschewed logic and reasoning and let emotional reactions be the dominant driving force. And this isn’t to say social media itself is bad or shouldn’t be used as a forum for political discourse. But it’s not being used to its fullest potential.

The typical posts seen around any political discussion are anger based messages pointing out what’s being done wrong. The discussions that follow tend to either be in agreement of the anger or be an anger-fueled opposition. This doesn’t encompass the entirety of online political discussion, but the vast majority tends to look like this. During 2016’s Presidential race, that anger manifested itself outside of online discussions and surfaced during rallies and protests. Not since 1968 has there been so much violence directly associated with political rallying.

And this is where I start to get worried. Many of the posts I keep reading blame either side of the political spectrum for the violence, the disconnect, the crude tactics, and point to themselves and their stance as the solution. For a lot of what’s being argued, it’s all non-partisan issues. But non-partisan issues are being labeled with partisan offenders. And mostly, the non-partisan issues being blamed have more to do with common human decency than they do with any political stance. Both sides of the spectrum have a lot more in common than most people give credit for.

For a long time now, I’ve believed that the political spectrum is no longer a useful tool in political discourse. It simply no long reflects the complicated political realities. But more and more often, I’m seeing people hold on to their political affiliations as stringent parts of their identities and any challenge to their beliefs is a challenge to their character, which results in only more anger. This is something that has only gotten louder as more people adopt social media as their main course for stress relief. It often brings up the question whether we as a species are mature enough to handle the weight and responsibility of something like social media. Clearly, people read the things being posted, take them to heart, and act on them.

The social media discourse also tends to dwell on leaders as opposed to the local representatives who actions and decisions will actually directly affect people. The focus on leaders has actually developed a new level of celebrity typically reserved for the likes of the Kardashians. Watching and reading about the election has started to feel more like reading up on TV gossip than it does about the progress of politics. This is probably why qualifications and aptitude have become subservient to personality and entertainment.

The greatest frustration I personally experienced during this entire election process was witnessing everything unfold fully knowing that no matter what anyone said, the decision would remain steadfast. Nothing was going to break the decisions that the American public already made even before all of the pertinent information about what either presidency would look like was available. Great tyrants have proclaimed that reason is passion’s slave and no election has better illustrated this.

The ramifications of this election have yet to be felt. If the negative outcomes so many of us are nervously anticipating do come to fruition, the political leaders will receive the brunt of the blame. When in actuality, the American public has nowhere else to look than their own social media feeds as to why things have developed in this way.

In no way am I advocating for any sort of censorship or even abolishing the concept of social media. It exists and society has developed around it to the point where careers can be built entirely on social media platforms. What I am wondering is if we can be better with this constant open forum. Perhaps our political discussions can be more solution driven than blame driven. Instead of getting angry when things turn sour, we can use these online vehicles to discuss how things went wrong, what corrective measure can be taken, and what the hopeful outcomes can be. It’s still important to hold those in power to task for their actions. But constant open criticism and calls for impeachment over every small indiscretion does nothing for the political process except create blockades and deadlocks, completely halting the political process. And when the political process is halted, it’s the publicly funded projects, those we’ve collectively deemed essential enough to warrant government funding and oversight, that suffer.

I’m often called a misanthrope and my tendencies towards a frustration with people typically amplifies when I spent a lot of time reading through posts and comments. But my frustration isn’t actually rooted in a distaste for people. Quite the opposite. I really like people. And I have a lot of confidence in people to be kind, forward thinking, and motivated by only the best intentions. Even the results of this election, I can empathize where the American public truly think they’re working towards what’s best for them as a country. But their aim is misguided. They’ve been misdirected and a salesman saw an opportunity to take that misdirection, amplify it, and use it for his own gains. And that’s why we’re here today, reading a constant barrage of think pieces as to why things turned so ugly followed by cruel comments from people we will never meet and never interact with beyond the glow of a screen.

In a few days, I’m going to be an uncle. This addition to my family is bringing up my own questions about bringing more life into this world. On one hand, I have hope for people. That hope is illuminated whenever I read about amazing feats of engineering, breakthroughs in medical research, and imaginative discoveries about the potential of intelligent life on other planets and it gives me hope that my potential child will be a part of what drives progress forward and makes the world an amazing place. The other hand though is weighing heavier and heavier every day as I see people become so much more angry. Everything is an outrage and cause for outbursts of hate.

The American people made their choice and as a non-American I don’t have much choice but to accept their choice and hope for the best. But as I watch my own Facebook feed fill with more messages of anxiety and worry, I continually remind myself that people are capable of better. When we act out of fear and hate and anger, we make rash decisions whose consequences we can’t always anticipate. When we act out of logic and hope and compassion for each other, we make awesome decisions, leading to such cool discoveries who ramifications change the world for the better in ways we could never imagine.

I know we’re capable of so much more than this.

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Atticus ate my Headphones

I had a hard lesson re-taught to me not too long ago: if it’s on the floor, the puppy will chew it. This reminder came as I got ready for bed one night, excited to relax, listen to a podcast or some music, and slowly drift off to sleep. I reached under my bed for my headphones. My wonderful, beautiful sounding, comfortably fitting, $100 Sennheiser headphones (don’t get me wrong, I know $100 isn’t actually that expensive for headphones considering I’ve seen some go for a few thousand dollars, but that’s a lot of money for me). Well, I found one ear plug, then a bit of chord, then one of the rubber bits that slide onto the ear plug for comfort, then looked under my bed and saw my chihuahua puppy Atticus with a little piece of black chord hanging from his mouth.

Puppies chew everything, and I should have known this by now. I grew up with dogs all my life and they have chewed plenty: from baseboards to homework (yes, I had a dog once actually eat my homework, but I didn’t bother bringing that excuse to my teacher and instead just took the detention, figuring one lost lunch hour was easier to deal with than literally trying to argue that my dog ate my homework) to even my Dark Vader action figure, puppies chew everything.

Why did I just go on for almost 200 words about this? Well, I tend to be hard on people for what I perceive to be not thinking. I pride myself in having a lot of foresight and taking the time to see any and all possible confrontations, complications, confusion, and consequences. This sometimes makes a decision as banal as picking out soup at the grocery store an extended chore, but I can firmly say I have never regretted a single can of soup. But, despite my own hubris into my own foresight and my disdain for those who don’t demonstrate this same skill, even I forget something as simple as puppies will chew anything and everything left on the floor. I’m not perfect, despite my occasional excessive vanity, arrogance, and narcissism.

This imperfection illuminated especially bright recently when I was laid off from my job. I won’t go into where my job was or any of the specifics about my job, but I will say I worked in communications (fancy business way of saying a writer) for a university research department. In short, I was assured that my position being dissolved had nothing to do with performance and was only a result of some issues with research grants and workloads. My supervisor even offered me a reference before I asked for it and went on to say that working with me was a pleasure. Part of me felt like it was sincere and just crappy circumstances and the result of being bottom of the totem pole. But part of me also felt like if I was good at my job, this wouldn’t have happened. It was a blow to the ego and one that I’m having some difficulty recovering from.

I spent some time with my future mother-in-law who’s a certified life coach to help me with some job interview skills and sprucing up my resume. The career coaching session quickly turned into more of a therapy session where I explained a lot of the anxieties I have been experiencing since losing my job. She referred to these anxieties as Gremlins for the way they constantly hang around and start pinching and nudging us when we start to feel good. The best thing she told me was that having Gremlins, especially after getting laid off, was completely normal. Accepting I’m not perfect suddenly became a little easier: I’m not perfect, I’m human.

A lot of what my future mother-in-law said echoed a lot of the things my therapist has been telling me as well. I started seeing a therapist back in August after I noticed my work-life balance turned more into haunting anxieties. As I’ve been going through sessions, I realized two things: first, I should have started this a lot sooner, and secondly, I’m obsessed with control. From my day to day work to social situations, I want to control everything. Everything has to be perfect. This isn’t healthy.

In fact, I discovered that a lot of what I was trying to control in order to save or preserve it was causing significantly more damage than any good. My control issues even rooted into why I avoid a lot of social situations and even have a difficulty in meeting and connecting with new people sometimes: my guard is up, I don’t feel like I can control how things are moving, so instead I completely cut it off. It’s not a good way to operate and I’m slowly learning to let things go and move how they move. But it’s been difficult. I’m making progress and I take some solace in that. But I’m also trying to make sure I don’t become controlling over how I’m not trying to control everything anymore. It’s been really difficult.

Of all the things said to me the past while, one thing has struck a particular chord that’s ringing true to me. My future sister-in-law said, “Progress over perfection.” Really simple. But it encompasses everything I’ve been struggling with. Not everything will fall exactly where I want it, but at least I’m working to get it closer. And that counts for something.

I find I’m getting less angry at people all the time. I’m not frustrated when I hear stories about silly or dumb things people do and how they clearly didn’t see what was coming. I shrug now, laugh a bit if it isn’t too tragic, and realize people have all kinds of things on their minds all of the time. Living day-to-day isn’t easy. And sometimes you just don’t see what’s in front of you.

I didn’t get mad at Atticus for chewing my headphones. I gave the headphones their proper burial in my garbage and thought about all the awesome stuff I listened to on them. I had a pair of backup headphones, not nearly as nice sounding as my Sennheisers, but they do the trick until I get a new job and am able to afford another pair of higher-end headphones. I thought about my Darth Vader action figure and my homework from when I was a kid, early victims of the family poodle. And I laughed. And I’d like to say I haven’t left anything on the floor since.

Things I Figured Out While Going Through my Books and Getting Ready to Move

  1. I don’t like poetry

Nor am I particularly good at it either. I’ve been a part of a few poetry groups, bought a lot of poetry books, written more poems than I’ll ever have the time to transcribe out of my chicken-scratch vandalized notebooks and into a word processor to make some sense out of whatever I vomited onto the page, yet I’m always finding myself shrugging at so much poetry, thinking to myself, “I don’t really get it.”

I know I’m not a philistine, and by all means I can definitely appreciate poetry as a genre and a craft in and of itself, but I don’t connect with poetry like a lot of the poets who I’ve hung out with. There was a long span of time where I wanted to connect with poetry so bad and I wanted to be passionate like so many poets, but I realized that it’s not the kind of thing you can force. You either get it and it resonates with you, or you don’t and you’re left trying to make sense out of incomplete sentences that are supposed to carry some sort of weight you just don’t feel.

And this is how I’ve figure out I’m a terrible poet. I’ve broken it down and called it the Bukowski test. It’s like this:

In all the poetry groups I’ve been a part of and with all the poetry fans I’ve shared my poems with, I always get the same response:

“It’s very Bukowski.”

Problem number one: I don’t like Bukowski’s poems. His prose is some of my favourite ever. I read Factotum in one evening. I read Pulp over a drive home from the Okanagan Valley. Hot Water Music was my favourite book and my favourite band at the same time. But I just don’t like his poems. This probably just falls back to point number one: I don’t like poetry (but apparently I like colons).

Problem number two is that everyone who has ever told me that my poems remind them of Bukowski, did not like Bukowski. In fact, a lot of them hated Bukowksi. A few even despised Bukowski. Yet, “It’s very Bukowski,” was meant to be a compliment.

So, when people tell me that, “It’s very Bukowksi,” what they’re really saying is, “You’re kind of bad at poetry, I think you’re kind of dumb, your face is unpleasant to look at, you write entirely literally and in layman’s terms, but I find you kind of funny and kind of charming in that off-putting awkward I’m afraid of what you’re going to say next sort of way. I admire your courage for putting yourself out there like that.”

Very Bukowski.

  1. All the first books I ever read all the way through were written by celebrities

The first book I read cover-to-cover, understood the whole way through, and didn’t have to read as a part of a class, was David Cross’ I Drink for a Reason. The second was Lewis Black’s Nothing’s Sacred quickly followed by Kevin Smith’s Silent Bob Speaks. I love these books. I think they’re funny, insightful, tell a great story, and are written without any pretension. They’re accessible and meant to be consumed, laughed at, enjoyed, and revisited when there’s nothing on TV.

I came out of a university program where people were reading David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen for the sole challenge of it. I’ll admit, I even bought a copy of Infinite Jest that has been sitting on a bookcase, doubling in size from dust collections since I brought it home. It’s seven-point font and entire-book-in-itself of endnote as part of the narrative (no, not references like endnotes in other books, this is fiction and you have to read the endnotes otherwise you just don’t get the book) has been an open challenge since the name first started getting kicked around my classrooms in first year. I’ve tried starting Infinite Jest, along with The Corrections and Freedom multiple times, and I’ve always landed on the same conclusion about ten pages in.

I don’t fucking care.

Yes, the writing is dense as a brick and the craft is something to marvel at like Renaissance Art. I understand the appeal of Franzen’s and Wallace’s technical skills as writers. But the writing is so fucking long-winded I can’t get through a sentence without losing my train of thought and de-railing thinking about books I’d much rather be reading right now.

This is probably something typical of a reader who grew up on TV and comic books as their first choice in medium up until college. Again, the first book I ever read cover-to-cover that wasn’t as part of a class was I Drink for a Reason and I was well into my 20s by the time that book was released, and even further into my 20s when I actually read it. That book did ignite that interest in me to look further into non-fiction well beyond journalism, which was my first writing medium of choice in my adult years, and was the start of that slippery slide that led me to stop caring about poetry and over-academic wanking and start finding books I can actually get into.

  1. At one point, I wanted to be a comedy writer

Then that horrible realization hit: I’m not funny. I think I might be quirky, and I’m neurotically over-analytical, and that worked well for Larry David and Louis CK, but they also know how to frame their quirks and analyses to be relatable, and therefore, funny. I lack those skills.

I’ve lucked out a few times hitting notes that people could relate to and getting a few chuckles, but I think my Bukowksi-charm wears out quick.

In addition to David Cross, Lewis Black, and Kevin Smith (all funny folk), I used to read a lot of David Sedaris (to be fair, I still often read Sedaris, but I went through a specific phase where I tried so hard to write like him) and my favourite comic book character was Deadpool (the comedic, pop-culture referencing, fourth-wall breaking mercenary whose yellow and white narrative boxes speak to him). Based on these influence, I wanted to bad to be a comedy writer.

I started looking into script writing and seeing what writers for SNL were like and I got into sit-coms that I felt like represented my generation. But then I ran into that problem.

The “my generation” thing.

As part of wanting to be a comedy writer, I really wanted to write the book that would be the millennials’ On the Road and Big Sur. I wanted to define the millennial experience through my unique perspective on storytelling. But the more I said that to myself, the more I fucking hated myself.

There’s an obnoxious pretension for wanting to “define your generation.” Especially with a piece of art. This is why I can’t stand Lena Dunham and Girls. It was a novel idea to start with, but the older I got the more her quirks and over neurotic analyses started to bother me. Self-awareness is a sign of intelligence. But hyper-self-awareness is a sign of narcissism. And narcissism’s novelty wears off quick. I can’t deny the show’s popularity so Dunham must be doing something right, but the drive to define your own generation doesn’t appeal to me. I seriously doubt Jack Kerouac went so far out of his way to try and define his generation. He just wrote cool stories about crazy shit he did.

Kerouac didn’t start out that pretentious. He wound up that pretentious. His fans are pretentious. Those who try to copy what he did are pretentious. People who over use the word pretentious are pretentious. People who think they’re funny for over using a word and pretending to be self-aware of over using that word are pretentious. Especially if the word is pretentious. Or a pretentious word.

I know that wasn’t funny. You don’t have to tell me. I know I’m not funny.

  1. I’m really bored with super heroes

Comic books are the reason I started reading, they’re the reason I kept picking up reading throughout my life, and remain one of my biggest influence when I write anything. Especially now that I’ve found my comfort zone playing with genre fiction, comics play a huge part in how I approach any story.

I still spend more money on comic books than I do on rent. But I’ve noticed how far I’ve strayed from the big comic publishers and the traditional comic characters. They’re more popular than ever thanks to their extra exposure in cartoons and in summer blockbuster movies, and I’m really happy that they’re so successful right now. My movement away from super heroes is actually very organic. I literally just looked through my comic collection and realized how few of them were super heroes and how many fall into either hard fantasy or hard science fiction categories.

I don’t know if I have a larger point with this point. Just an observation I guess. I still like super heroes, but I guess I know the format of sequential art to tell stories is capable of so much more than familiar franchises.

  1. Elf Quest is a very feminine comic book

I literally just figured this out over this weekend. I bought a few issues while at free comic book day because I’ve been looking for some decent fantasy and I know Elf Quest is a long standing title with a good following that is now being published by Dark Horse Comics (one of my favourite publishers).

There’s nothing wrong with it being feminine. Again, the format of sequential art is capable of a lot and this absolutely proves it. I have no larger point with this one either. I read through all the issues of Elf Quest that I bought and though I didn’t enjoy them I know there’s some solid storytelling going on. Just not my deal, nor does it have to be.

  1. Harvey Pekar made me want to be more honest

As part of stepping away from super hero comic books I got really into Harvey Pekar. American Splendor did a lot for comic books and for non-fiction. Reading American Splendor, Quitter, Our Cancer Year, and Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me was like nothing else I ever experienced before.

Most of all, it made me realize why I’m not funny and why I fell so short as a comedy writer. I’m not honest with myself. I tried to use comedy to hide from my own shortcomings and to point out the shortcomings of others. That can work to a point, but you always need to be willing to make fun of yourself first. I wasn’t ready to do that. So it didn’t work.

But reading Pekar’s work slapped a kind of sense into me that I wish was slapped into me years ago. He’s easily my biggest influence on the non-fiction side of my writing. I even hear his voice narrating along as I write these odd few essays every once in a while that I eventually publish on my blog which is regularly read by about twenty people. At least they’re reading.

As I box up my comic books, and look through the collection of novels and story collections and poetry collections I’ve gathered over my years of trying to figure this whole writing thing out, I realize how every one of these pieces of paper has somehow affected the way I write, and the way I live.

The lifestyle choices I make, the media I engage with, even the other books I get into are all influenced by whatever I’m reading at the time. And as much as this list is about things I’m not a big fan of, the piles of boxes that clutter my office floor remind me I have a lot to be stoked about too.

I should dig through my books more often.

On the Death of Fred Phelps

The passing of the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church ignited the internet. Within minutes of the Huffington Post sharing its first publishing of the details of the man’s death, hundreds of comments filled the feed, condemning the man for his work in establishing the infamous group who have been launched into the popular culture sphere for their extreme fundamentalist views and their picketing of soldier and celebrity funerals, pushing their idealism through shock-value tactics.

Through all the ironic puns and propositions to picket his funeral, once internet staple, who has been one of the loudest voices for LGBT equality in America, posted a message that took a different approach. George Takei wrote, “I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil holding, ‘God Hate Freds’ signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul who tormented many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.” Takei’s message quickly spread, already becoming a meme shared all over the internet, showing a different side to this polarizing topic and how that there’s still a more human approach.

I have never supported anything the Phelps family or the Westboro Baptist Church have ever done. Much of their misguided scripture interpretation and their hunger for public attention have done worlds of harm and not even an ounce of good. I have seen members of my family and many of my closest friends deeply disturbed by this group’s action and have even found myself thinking extremely hateful things toward this group.

It’s important to remember that all of these people, Fred Phelps included, are still people. They’re scared and are struggling to understand this world in the very short amount of time they have to figure things out, so they turned to a book that claimed to have all the answers and they took each word of these parables and metaphors and literal rules and regulations. They’re fallible and, believe it or not I do believe, they think they’re doing the right thing by pushing their doctrine. I really believe that they think that what they do is helping others and they’ve been so heavily indoctrinated that they don’t notice the amount of harm and grief they’re causing others.

And like all other people, I believe that Fred Phelps doubted himself all the time. I bet right to the very end. But I also don’t believe that as he lay on his death bed, he was thinking, “I hope God kills all the fags.” I bet, like any other human being, he was thinking about his family, his loved ones, and if he was still praying, I bet he was praying for them and not for the people he spread so much hate about.

I have no doubt he loved his family. His way of showing and expressing his love was overshadowed by his convictions and beliefs, but I have no doubts about this because Fred Phelps was still a human being. And no matter how much any human being can hate, they’re still going to love more.

A lot of the internet comments I read about Fred Phelps’ death speculated on his own afterlife and some definition of god’s judgment on this man for his life of hate. I personally have no religious inclining, I don’t believe in god or heaven or hell of afterlife. And if my suspicions are correct, then Mr. Phelps is simply gone and maybe the lack of god or heaven or any truth to what he spent his life pursuing could be his own personal brand of hell that he will never be aware of.

But the fact that our awareness of what happens once the body ceases to function makes the concept of an afterlife insignificant. What’s most important is what we as humans do in this blink of existence that’s over far too quick for any of us to comprehend. And though we cannot control what others decide to believe in and how they act upon those beliefs, we get to decide how we react to them.

My reaction is this: this will be the last time I write about the Phelps family and the Westboro Baptist Church. Whether we pay attention to them or not, condemn or question them, they will continue to do what they feel is best. I’m not advocating acceptance or pardoning or even condoling what they do. They’re like a wasp nest: if you ignore them, nothing they do will affect you. It’s a small nuisance, but one that can be easily overlooked for more important things in this life. They’ve already become a self-parody in the popular-culture canon and it’s not as if their numbers are growing exponentially as they picket more funerals. People who buy into what they do are already predisposed to this brand of ignorance.

As fulfilling as attacking this group for their beliefs might be, it’s simply another brand of hate that will still leave feelings of emptiness. If you’re really against what Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church stands for, don’t hate them. Don’t even pay attention to them. Instead, keep loving the people around you and keep accepting people everywhere for who they are. Existence is far too brief to focus on all things you hate all the time. There are too many cool things still happening in the world to be excited about.

The most important thing for me that I carry about Fred Phelps’ death is that a man died. Just like everyone else does. We’re born, we live, we learn, we grow, we die. It’s another reminder of life’s brevity and I’m not wasting it being angry anymore. Anger breeds regression and stagnation. I want to breed progress and solutions.

What Happened?

I’m trying to remember what I did in university that made me such an insane creative writing machine. I’m not sure if it was the genuinely enthusiastic and idealistic environment, the easy access to some of the best writers I’ve ever known – let alone read (both student and instructor) – or if it was the feeling that I carried no other responsibility than to exercise the introspective thinking and passionate storytelling that makes life bearable to begin with, but I used to turn out personal essays and short stories and poetry like Paula Dean turns out clogged arteries and racial slurs.

Fast forward a few months. I’m done university and out into the working world. I even got a writing job. I get to write blog posts for the company website (those are kind of like short stories, right?), I get to write for the quarterly internal magazine (that’s like writing essays, right?), I do internal communications (um… poetry?), and sell advertising space (now I want to kill myself). The real paycheques I earn and real health benefits I get finally afforded me to get my own apartment and afford groceries and (most importantly) booze. I have a job where I exercise (or rather, experiment with) my skills as a writer every day that affords me the comfort to go home and write whatever I want whenever I want.

Why the fuck haven’t I been writing anything?

Ok, maybe it’s not the case that I haven’t been writing anything. But my creative juices are slowing down. A lot. Nothing I ever wrote used to be this hard. And I don’t mean hard in the sense that I had to really dig in myself and really explore these themes and have a full grasp as to what I’m going to say. It’s hard as in when I go home form work, literally all I want to do is eat junk food and watch cartoons.

I want to say that my job drains me of all my writing desires and leaves me exhausted and wordless. Who am I kidding, I spend more time sharing Huffington Post stories and making witty comments about them on Facebook than I do any sort of work. Despite my secondary residency on Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Facebook, I’m actually on top of (and at times a few weeks ahead of) all of my work. Am I really good at my job? Is my job just that easy? Are the writing habits I developed in university following me into the working world making me actually very efficient but then very (VERY) easily bored?

I think being bored is the main issue here. I’m bored at work and when I leave the office I get bored when I go home. But it’s the worst kind of bored possible. When I was a kid, being bored meant that it was time to try a new hobby. Being bored meant that it was time to get off my ass and do something constructive. Being bored meant something was wrong with my current situation and it was time to change it. How come now being bored means I shift to a different position on my couch and fall asleep to the sitcom I paid 180 XBOX points for?

When I was in university, I read an essay by Jonathan Franzen about his struggling with writer’s block. During the class discussion, I believe my exact words were, “If you’re writing about writer’s block then it’s time to kill yourself.” Ironically, we read David Foster Wallace’s “Shipping Out” shortly after. Wallace, of course, did literally kill himself and many speculate that he did so because he couldn’t write anymore. I want to say that I feel fortunate that I work a job where I write every day, but I still feel completely unfulfilled and like the moment I quit this job some other fresh university graduate will be sitting in my chair writing the same blog posts, internal magazine articles and internal communications. Being able to write only goes so far, but if you don’t give a shit about what you’re writing about then you’re going to find yourself completely unfulfilled. Being unfulfilled is the worst feeling I have ever experienced.

I grew up part of this generation being told that we can be whatever we want to be. What we weren’t told is that there is a limited amount of options available for us to choose from. It’s like being told in the Harvey’s hamburger commercial that you can make your burger however you like it, but then approaching the toppings counter and finding all of the toppings soured, rotten and molding. Sure, there are some options there, but do we actually want any of them?

We enter post secondary with the highest aspirations. We work and study to find ourselves and where we exactly fit in the world. We earn good marks, we receive our degree, and we come out of convocation running with our gowns flowing and degrees in hand ready to start what will be an exciting career in exactly what we were studying.

Again, I got this, in a sense. And part of me feels guilty for whining when I know people who literally collect the coins off the stages at the strip clubs just so they can make rent. I’m one of the lucky essayists/poets/authors who has a steady job. But a steady job isn’t enough. Life isn’t work, pay, and death. At least it isn’t for me. I don’t think I’m the reproducing type, so I might not find the meaning to my life in raising another human being to grow up and find the same disappointment that I did.

My favourite writing quote is from Ernest Hemingway: “In order to write about life, you must first live it.” I’m not living for a fuck of a lot right now; therefore, I have nothing to write about. I can’t write about laying on my couch at home on a Friday night (Buzzfeed already has the monopoly on the “why my 20s suck” meme market). I know I have a lot of life to live before I can even look to the left at Hemingway (and a lot of animals to kill) but life doesn’t happen in a cubicle staring at a screen.

I don’t want to say who I work for, I have a strange feeling that people I work with read this and I still need the paycheque (I can always tell them, “oh yeah, I wrote this while working my last job.” Most of them are illiterate enough to be able to call me out on this shit anyways). But I can tell you this: when I came into this job, I didn’t even know this company I worked for existed, let alone have any prior knowledge of anything it does. And a far as I’m concerned, 90 per cent of it is bullshit anyways. Yet, I rattle on day after day like I am the utmost expert on the industry I apparently work for. Who the fuck am I? Seriously, when did I gain the authority to write about things I didn’t even know existed up to a few months ago?

The real issue here is my engagement with what I’m doing for work. I very obviously just don’t care. Motivation is hard to find when you’re apathetic, and even harder to find when you’re really trying not to be apathetic. Because I’m not engaged with what I do for eight hours a day, I go home exhausted. When I was in school, I was fully engaged. I loved every second when I was in the classroom. I loved how I was challenged as a creative and critical thinker. I worked my ass off and it was amazing. But school’s over. I don’t have the money to study for my Master’s. To make money I have to work.

And I don’t even think it’s the very current day job that I have right now. Any day job would leave me feeling this way. I’m probably shooting myself in the foot because any potential employer who reads this is never going to want to hire me now. But I think it’s worth saying.

I’m not very high on the totem pole. And I don’t think I’ll ever climb that high up the corporate ladder. Some of us are made to scrape the bottom like eternal characters in Bukowski novels. He wrote the way he did and the characters he did for a reason: he was scraping the bottom most of the time too. But so long as our work doesn’t define us, we can remind ourselves every day that we get to walk away with a paycheque and afford the luxury of doing what we like when we have the time and the energy.

This is the most I’ve written for this blog in a long time. Posts are getting more frequent again, but it’s still not the story a day I used to be able to do. But it’s something.

I don’t know how I got here. But I’m not going to get to a better place eating junk food and watching cartoons whenever I leave work. Well, sometimes it’s excusable.

Overstaying Your Welcome

I’m spending my Saturday night sitting at home, drinking diet Dr. Pepper and watching Norah Jones on PBS. Yes, I am a fan or Norah Jones. I think she’s actually just a solid composer and performer who has been able to avoid the conventional story arc of being attractive and talented. She can actually sing without the assistance of auto-tune or over-production, she can actually play keyboards and guitar really well, and her band are very obviously hired guns but rather than work hard to make her sound, I have a feeling she makes the hired band really sound good, if not they all perfectly complement each other and adapt well to each others’ styles. It’s a live performance from 2012, her backup band look like they’ve been stealing from Wilco’s closet, but watching this made me realize something most important about Norah Jones’ avoidance of the conventional pop-star story arc: she’s yet to peak and drop.

Earlier in the night I watched Get Him to the Greek for, surprisingly, only the second time (the first time was in theatres shortly after its release). For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a film about a rock star (portrayed by Russell Brand) experiencing his own post-peak drop while a record label employee (Jonah Hill) attempts to escort the drunken, drug-filled, lonely, and depressed rock star to a comeback concert. Though it plays on a lot of rock’n’roll lifestyle stereotypes, I think there’s something to be said for Brand’s character’s situation in the film. After gaining a cult following being the degenerate and debaucherous rock star that people could only imagine actually existing during the 70s and 80s, Brand’s character releases his “slump” record: one that experiments with world music and but comes off as an attempt to show a charity-focused side to a performer obviously only obsessed with his own public image and self-indulgent lifestyle. Of course, by the end of the movie, we realize that Brand’s character is more complex than his drug use and public persona and all the actually wants is a really good friend.

While watching this, I realized that there is something very familiar about the peak and drop that so many popular and contemporary artists experience during their careers. Be it the Offspring strangely experimenting with hip-hop (while poorly trying to parody the suburban lifestyle that has adopted the urban gangster culture), Metallica putting out relatively safe biker-rock records, or even something as simple as Kiss taking off the makeup, everyone has an artist whose career they followed and there is one moment leaving us yelling out, “What were they thinking?”

Chuck Klosterman has a similar argument in his book Eating the Dinosaur, but Klosterman obsessively dissects a single example of the peak-and-drop: Nirvana’s In Utero. Before we go any further, let me clear something as so we can understand some of my frame of reference as I approach this. There were only two good parts of Nirvana: Dave Grohl and Kris Novoselic. Those two were possibly the most solid rhythm section that came out of the 90s. Unfortunately, everything else about Nirvana feels like a constant argument attempting to legitimize itself. For Klosterman, In Utero is what he repeatedly described as “guilt rock.” Essentially, Klosterman is saying that in an attempt to reassert Nirvana’s own legitimacy, every choice behind In Utero (from selecting Shellac and Big Black legend Steve Albini to produce it to the choice of guitar tone and song structure) was solely to make In Utero as unlistenable and inaccessible as possible.

Klosterman’s second and third books, Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and Killing Yourself to Live, are a huge reason why I write the way I do. The accessible language and diction coupled with the choice of topics surrounding popular culture Klosterman often uses in his essays and non-fiction shaped much of my own writing style. Killing Yourself to Live especially has a harsh honesty that most writers strive to achieve, but mostly still wind up trying to hide behind their work rather than display themselves in their work. Klosterman was especially good at creating narratives throughout his essays and arguments as well, increasing the accessibility of his work and making his ideas relatable on many different levels. Both of these books boosted Klosterman’s reputation as a solid non-fiction writer. As I’ve tried reading his later books, I have to wonder if he’s experiencing his own peak-and-drop.

I haven’t read any of his fiction yet, and admittedly I’ve yet to read his newest book I Wear the Black Hat (which looks at how people often relate to villains better than heroes), but while trying to read IV (which is more a collection of observant magazine articles) and especially Eating the Dinosaur, the deep personal points or relation to the topics he writes about is almost gone. In fact, he almost comes off arrogant because he writes his point of view so far above the topics he looks at. Klosterman has starting writing as though he were Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre where the premise in his topics are meant to be modern, but the thoughts and arguments are too obscure for the topics he’s writing about. Admittedly, Klosterman’s cult readership is only expanding the more he writes, he must be doing something right. But none of his books since Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs and Killing Yourself to Live have received any of the same media attention or critical acclaim.

But who am I to talk about media attention and critical acclaim? If I were to pick a Nirvana record as my favourite, I would pick In Utero.

Klosterman’s diction has increased, he’s formatting his books in new ways, and he thinks about the world in different ways than he did a decade ago. That’s actually a good thing. Because if we’re not complaining about how different Americana sounds from Smash or how much slower Reload is from Ride the Lightning, then we’re complaining about how every Nickelback record sounds the exact same. I think the only real happy music fans are fans of the Mars Volta or TV on the Radio, because they expect each record and each side project to sound to different and that everything they do is artistically minded and a little off the wall. But, at the same time, if they record something that sounds like an earlier record, then they’re being “self-referential” and totally “post-modern.” Two terms that bands like the Mars Volta and TV on the Radio and their fans would be very comfortable with.

This then begs a bigger question: is the artist’s creative process or the output and the product attached more important? When Paul Simon made the Graceland album, people were pissed at the process, saying that Simon should have avoided what was a still apartheid enforcing South Africa. But the very same people criticizing his process couldn’t help but say that Graceland was the best thing he did since parting ways with Art Garfunkel. I read Eating the Dinosaur and understand how much work Klosterman put into his analysis and arguments. I understand how much time Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus spend on thinking about literally everything and how hard it is to cram that much thought into books. I’m just having difficulty reading them.

I’m sure somewhere there is a magical land where the process of growing and experimentation collides with an output and product that doesn’t alienate established audiences. Even small deviations from set forms can cause fans to turn their backs. Hardcore band Strife experienced this with its last record before their recent reunion, Angermeans. Strife’s influences from non-hardcore bands like Sepultura and Helmet were obviously showing. The backlash from the militant straight edge communities that Strife helped build through the 90s instantly disowned the band. Was Strife ever really that dissimilar from Sepultura and Helmet to begin with? I don’t think so. But I also haven’t been straight edge in almost a decade.

Do I fully get why artists overstay their welcome? No. But it’s an interesting trope that has arisen over the years. Especially recently there seems to be more and more stories of artists who try something different and fail. What we keep forgetting is that failure isn’t a bad thing. It just means you put yourself out there and tried. Not everyone will like everything a hundred per cent of the time. But at least you tried.

Pop Culture and the OASIS

I recently finished reading Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. And yes, this essay will have some spoilers. It’s not a review, nor do I really spoil all that much. There are certain scenes I need to reference in order for my argument to make sense. But there’s actually a lot going on in this book that I won’t be touching on and even if you read this essay before you read the book it’s still definitely more than worth the read. So, I won’t be insulted, if you want to venture elsewhere for now because you want this book to be all surprise when you read it, I’ll more than understand.

For those of you still venturing forth without reading the book first, let me try to capture the basic premise of the book in a few sentences.

In the not so distant future, all energy resources are depleted. As such, the world’s economy is basically taken out behind the barn and shot. There’s no work, the world’s pretty disgusting, and people who live day to day are usually addicted to crystal meth and really horrible. But, most people have an escape in a video game software program called OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). In short, it’s a virtual reality where an entire simulated universe exists. Kids go to school in the OASIS, most people who have employment work in the OASIS, and accessing the OASIS is entirely free. The designer of the OASIS believed that technology should be accessible to everyone. On the day of the designer’s death, word spread about a game he set up in the OASIS universe where people plugged in can perform tasks to find keys that open gates; the first player to find all three keys and gates wins the designer’s fortune.

I’m not going to go into details about characters or conflicts or anything like that. What is interesting to note is that all of the main characters are adamant in completing the game themselves, by themselves. They even address the possibility of working together, but decide against it at every opportunity except for once.

Towards the end of the book, when the third gate is found, it requires three keys to open it. But each player can only hold one of each key. Which means a team of at least three has to open the last gate.

I’ll tell you why this interests me and helps bring up a point I’ve been thinking about.

A lot of this book rests on two things: gamer stereotypes and pop culture references. All the tasks and challenges the characters face in this book are direct references from pop culture from the late 70s to the early 90s. Because a vast knowledge of pop culture from this era is needed to complete the game and potentially win the prize, the characters in this book study and memorize pop culture, resulting in extreme fanfare of everything from John Hughes movies to Rush records to Atari games. The entire culture surrounding this not so distant future world is entirely dependent on this game designer’s favourite games, books, movies, and music.

The protagonists in the book each represent archetypes of gamer stereotypes: they each have their unique back stories and social problems, but they are all introverted, shy, insecure, and despise the world around them. And that’s the whole reason why they plug in to the OASIS. It’s why they’re all so obsessed with finishing this game and knowing all of this pop culture trivia: it’s all they have that’s worth living for.

Frankly, this has been my own experience with pop culture as well. Especially growing up. In wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t good at school, friends were few and far between: in short, I was the weird kid. I fit the stereotype perfect. I hated school, I hated everyone I went to school with, I purposely made myself sick just to avoid leaving my house for another day. I remember there being entire summer vacations when I didn’t leave my house unless it was to go to Blockbuster and rent another video game or another movie.

If it wasn’t for Playstation, Star Wars, and Iron Maiden, I don’t know how I would have turned out. Each school day was survival, knowing that at 3:30, I got to go home and read comic books, play guitar, and, most importantly, be by myself. I couldn’t stand people, especially people in my own age group. I tried to make friends, but it was like I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Most of the kids in my neighbourhood just wanted to play sports all of the time. I knew nothing about sports. I watched hockey occasionally, but that was the extent of my sports knowledge. Even then I had no idea was icing or offside was until I was in my 20s. My brain had no room for that. I had to memorize the maps in Quake and Greedo’s lines in Mos Eisley (before this fills my comments section, yes, I know, Han shot first).

Something happened as I got older. I started actually finding kids my own age into the things I liked. I remember who I sort of consider my first friend. He kept his love for Star Wars under the radar in hopes that the other kids wouldn’t find out. He found out I liked Star Wars and introduced me to a card game taking place in the franchise. He started showing me other card games too like Magic: The Gathering, Battletech, and Marvel Overpower. Soon, we found a few other kids into the same games. I had basically the same group of friends throughout the latter half of elementary, junior high, and a bit of high school. We all wound up interested in other things by the time high school ended and I don’t remember the last time I talked with any of them. But, when I look at my group of close friends now I realize that we connected on the same things that my friends from school and I did as well.

And that’s why there needing to be three keys to open the third gate is so important. What that says is that being into the pop culture is great and all, but what really matters is the people you connect with based on your love of pop culture. The connection might start with just being into the same movies. Suddenly, you’re showing each other different books you both like. You start trading CDs and going to shows together. If you’re the creative type, you might even start working on projects together. And this isn’t even something that happens when you’re young. A week after I started dating my girlfriend, I posted an article on here that talked about how “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel was one of my favourite songs. I shared the article on my Facebook page and she commented on it saying that Say Anything is one of her favourite movies ever. I`ll get her to watch Star Wars soon enough.

Throughout Ready Player One, the designer of the OASIS, James Donovan Halliday, becomes one of the most prominent characters in the book. He`s never actually present or even alive in the book, but the entire design of the OASIS and all the challenges in the game give a full picture as to who this man was and why pop culture as so important to him. But, most of all, he didn`t just design the game to see who would get his fortune. He wanted to share all of his favourite games, movies, and music one last time. Because the world sucks and escaping is great; but, it’s always better to have a great group of friends to escape with.