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2017

The general sentiment seems to be that 2016 was an awful year. Accordingly, a lot of people have been looking forward to today; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a New Year’s Eve where the death of the old year was celebrated with such vigour.

Not by me though.

Don’t get me wrong, 2016 was truly horrendous from start to finish. Four days in I developed a headache that overshadowed the next three months, and things just went further downhill from there. In June, I had a great relationship with my parents, a job that was tolerable, a small but decent group of friends living in close proximity to me, and a thoroughly fulfilling relationship to keep me grounded. In just six months I’ve managed to lose all of that – partly though my own actions. I can hardly believe just how far I’ve sunk this year.

And yet I can’t get excited about 2017 for the same reason that I couldn’t get excited about December 2016. This isn’t a hockey game. There are no fresh starts here. Everything that has made the last few months so difficult will still be there when I wake up tomorrow. There’s no reason to expect that things will get better in 2017. In fact, there’s every possibility that 2017 will make 2016 look like a warm bubble bath in comparison.

But God, I hope not.

 

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.

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Little Things

In times like these, you start to notice the little things more and more.

The last time I spent the 27th of December in this country was 2010.

 

 

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.

Fog

I still can’t find the words to describe what’s happening right now, or how I feel, but I’m going to try anyhow. I need to try and give some sort of form to the fog that has been clouding my brain. And so, I’m just going to lay it out with very little filter.

The past three months have been the most difficult of my life thus far. That much I know for sure. The next three are likely to be more difficult still.

I go back and forth between feeling hopeful and hopeless a lot. When I’m feeling hopeful, the future I’ve envisioned is still right there in front of me, and it feels like everything will eventually go back to the way it was not long ago.

And when I’m feeling hopeless, I just want to crawl into a hole. I think about all the people who I will never speak to again, and how their lives will look like without me there. And I think that maybe they’ll all be better off without all the conflict and confusion currently present in part because I’m in the picture.

There are good reasons to be both hopeful and hopeless, I think. On one hand, in spite of the circumstances, it’s still so wonderful to talk to her. It just feels natural, and right. I’m not a big believer in things being “meant to be”, but this is a relationship that feels as though it is meant to be.

At times like this, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of over-analysing things, but even then there’s not much to make me feel hopeless. If things were hopeless, why would she suggest that I purchase a gift and then save it for later? And why would she give me that ticket at the airport and say it’s for “next time”? I don’t know when “later” or  “next time”is exactly, but that suggests that “later” and “next time” are times that will happen – that it’s a matter of when rather than if.

And yet, if that were true, why are we here?

If there’s love on both sides, and if both sides realize how wonderful and precious this thing is, and if both sides know that this thing works well, has worked well for years, and would likely continue to work well in the future, and if both sides are moved to tears thinking about everything the other person has helped get them through in the past half decade, and if both sides can’t imagine a future without the other, then why is this happening? Why is this necessary? Why did I have to say teary goodbyes to five people this week, knowing I might never see them again? Why has the best part of my life been taken away – even if it is indeed on a temporary basis?

And therein lies the hopelessness – because in spite of the irrationality of all of this, it is happening. The nightmares I had when I struggled with depression around the winter of 2011-2012 are becoming a reality. In the coming months, she will hold his hand like she used to hold mine. She will kiss him like she used to kiss me. And, perhaps, more than that.

I just can’t come to terms with the idea. Will doing any of that help to resolve the confusion? In my head, I just can’t see how it will. Making a decision of this magnitude based on how right it feels to hold someone’s hand, or kiss them, or more than that seems insane to me. I think it will only lead to more confusion, and I think it will only serve to complicate things between us. I was against this three month plan from the beginning because I wasn’t okay with her becoming physically intimate with someone else, and just because I ultimately agreed to the plan hasn’t changed that fact. I have tried to accept it, but I’m not there yet, and if/when I’m forced to come to grips with a fait accompli, I can’t be sure that things could ever quite be the same.

But maybe I’m making a mistake by assuming that it’s inevitable. Maybe she has the same reservations I do, that a line would be crossed which could never be uncrossed. Maybe she sees it as a last resort. Or maybe she sees it as necessary. And if that’s the case, I don’t know what to think. If someone’s doubts are so strong that that becomes necessary, then…

I want to yell and scream that this is a mistake, that we shouldn’t be doing this. But what would that accomplish? Nothing.

For now I’m stuck. It’s unpleasant, but there’s nothing I can really do at all.

 

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.

No Words

Some days, words fail me.

 

 

And Barry, if you’re listening, I still love you.

Burn The Tape

It is common for professional sports teams to film their own games for later review. Doing so allows players to identify what went well, what went poorly, and what adjustments they can make in order to have a better outcome next time.

Occasionally however, a team will play so poorly that film review would be a pointless exercise. If a hockey team loses a game 8-0, odds are that just about every player underperformed at just about every moment in the game. In such a situation, there are no lessons to be learned from studying game film, no positives to draw, and no minute adjustments to be made. And so the coach will give a simple command:

“Burn the tape.”

Well, November has been a burn-the-tape kind of month. Between all the stress over the bar exams, a shocking result in the American presidential election, the environment at work taking a decided turn for the worse, two blow-ups with my family, and relationship issues, it has been an awful month. One of the worst ever. Tomorrow morning I will practically skip to my calendar to flip the date over to December.

The thing is, real life isn’t like hockey. In hockey, no matter how well or how poorly the previous game went, the next one always starts with the score 0-0. A fresh slate. In real life, all of the problems of November 30th will still be there on December 1st. In hockey, when your team loses a game 8-0, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll win the next game, but you can bank on the next one being better. In real life, there are no such guarantees. November has been bad, but there’s no guarantee that December won’t be worse. That’s scary.

But I’m confident, or at the very least I’m hopeful. Partly because I have to be, and partly because I genuinely believe that things will get better. They have to.

I’ve known for a while that 2016 was going to be an extremely important year in my life, and while I didn’t picture things ending up quite like this, I fully expected December of this year to be critical.

For once, I was right. Here we go.

The World’s Happiness

I consider today, November 15th, to be the date where it becomes socially acceptable to start getting into the Christmas spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m the last person who will call anyone out for putting up lights the day after Hallowe’en. But society seems to regard November 1st as being too early, and admittedly it does feel a bit disrespectful to start belting out carols with a poppy on my chest. So, the 15th it is.

On the subject of Christmas then, one of my favourite Boy Meets World episodes is the Christmas episode in season six. In this episode, Eric gets a part-time job as Santa Claus at the local mall.

Eric quickly comes to love this job. He realizes how much happiness he can bring to children just by allowing them to sit on his lap and giving them a small gift. “I made her happy. I did that.” he remarks upon seeing a photograph of a beaming youngster.

Now, by this point in the series, Eric’s character is deployed almost exclusively as comic relief. And like any good comic relief character, he stretches the concept to the most ridiculous conclusion possible, and declares:

“I want the world’s happiness to be my responsibility!”

And for a time, it works out well for him. He spends a good chunk of his own money on toys to give to the kids who come to see him, and he makes all of them very happy.

Then comes one boy, holding a fire truck. He tells Eric/Santa that he was there yesterday, and was coming to return the fire truck. Eric asks why, and the boy responds that he’d only asked for the fire truck because initially he didn’t believe that Eric was really Santa. Having seen other kids get everything they’d asked for, he had come to believe that Eric was in fact Santa, complete with all of the magical powers that come with the gig. And so rather than a fire truck, the young boy says that what he’d really like for Christmas is parents.

Well, how do you respond to something like that?

We cut to later in the evening, and Eric is sitting on a park bench, still in his Santa suit. The snow accumulated on his lap suggests that he’s been there for a while.

And then Eric (who, may I remind you, is a comic relief character), starts to pray.

“What am I supposed to do? I made all those little kids smile. Took care of everyone who came to see me. No disrespect, but… why would you send me that little boy? Why doesn’t that little boy have parents?”

And then, a bit louder, he repeats himself: “Why would you send me that little kid?”

Finally, rising to his feet he says. “I will take care of this. I can be responsible for the happiness of one little boy.”

Giving a comic relief character a serious moment is a great way to stir up emotions in your audience, and this was no exception. I absolutely bawled the first time I saw this scene, and even a decade later it still hits hard.

I’ve always thought that Eric had the right idea. In my own life, every alternate career imagined myself in has always been about bringing happiness to people. I wanted to write a movie that would make millions of people laugh, I wanted to write a book that would make tens of thousands of people smile. I wanted to be the sort of teacher that would brighten up the lives of hundreds of students.

The number has become smaller over the years as I’ve realized my own limitations. I get that it’s not my lot in life to bring happiness to millions, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of people.

But God, give me one. I can handle it, I swear.

Wrong

It’s tough being wrong. I’ve never been good at it.

In elementary school, I had something of a reputation for always being right. If I said something, you could take it to the bank – particularly if the subject was math or science.

It was a nice reputation to have, but maintaining it came with a lot of pressure. On the rare occasions I raised my hand and gave an incorrect response to a math question, there was an audible “OOOOOOOOOOOH MICHAEL GOT IT WRONG!” from the rest of the class. Not pleasant.

Accordingly, I made sure that I was almost absolutely sure before speaking up. Even if I was 85% sure I had the right answer I’d let someone else go for it, lest I embarrass myself.

As time has passed, life has become more and more complex. As a result, I’m wrong more often about things than I used to be. Even though I no longer get an over-dramatic reaction from a classroom full of 10 year-olds whenever I get something wrong, I still hate the feeling. If I’m not sure about something, I’ll still try to avoid answering if I can, either by equivocating or simply saying that I don’t know enough about the subject to respond.

But even that’s not enough. Sometimes I still get it wrong.

These days it’s not math and science that are in my wheelhouse but history and political science. Particularly, elections and electoral systems. Over the last year and a half I’ve made a lot of very strong predictions about a certain recent election, and I’ve been proven dead wrong.

The result itself was upsetting, but honestly I’m not sure if I’m more upset with the result itself or that fact that for 18 months I spouted off an opinion that proved to be completely and utterly wrong. I’ve never been this wrong about anything before in my life. Fortunately, most people are upset enough at the result that they haven’t remembered to say “I told you so.”

That I wrote the previous sentence without thinking twice about it is really sad. I’m not above being horribly self-centred, it seems.

Burning At Both Ends, Again

One of the best parts about working is that, unlike when I was in school, my evenings and weekends are entirely my own. No looming exams to worry about, no anxiety over work that I should be doing instead of watching sports or playing games. It’s really nice to be able to come home and not feel guilty about relaxing all evening.

Or at least it was.

But now the bar exams are looming, and so after I finish up work for the day I’m forced to put in another lengthy shift in for studying. The result is that from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep, I’ve got obligations on my mind. It’s particularly exhausting given the instability of my work environment at the moment, and it’s not something I can maintain in the long run. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because I felt pretty much the same way applying for jobs last summer.

Fortunately, just like last summer, this unsustainable situation isn’t a permanent state of affairs. November 23rd is just over three weeks away at this point, and when dawn rises on that day the bar exams will be in the rear view mirror (assuming I pass).

Until then, I’m in survival mode.

Snowflakes

Back in elementary school, teachers emphasized our uniqueness from a very early age.

I remember one activity that we did somewhere around Christmastime. We were directed to cut some holes into folded pieces of white paper however we pleased. When we unfolded them, we discovered that we had produced snowflakes, and everyone’s snowflake was different.

What wonderful symbolism. The snowflakes were meant to represent us: each special, and different, and unique. They also served as cheap Christmas decorations which our parents would stealthily discard three weeks later.

There were lots of activities like this, all designed to tell us how special all of us were.

Two decades later, I’m not sure that this is what kids should be taught in school. In fact, I think that teaching them the opposite would be a better way to approach things. Teach kids that they’re not special, or unique, but rather that they’re very much the same as everyone else.

Perhaps it’s a less positive message to convey to young children, but I think it’s also closer to the truth. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike, aren’t we?

Everything that follows is based on the premise that our similarities far outweigh our differences. If you don’t subscribe to that belief, then the rest of this entry is, unfortunately, wasted on you.

The problem is that if you tell kids that they’re special often enough, they’ll start to believe it. That’s dangerous because it’s a very, very short hop from “special” to “superior”. The result is that you end up with a group of teenagers who think that they’re better than everyone else in one way or another. Some people think they’re cooler. Some people think they’re smarter. Some people think they’re just better human beings.

That last one was my problem. I knew I wasn’t cooler than anyone, and I never considered my intelligence to be something that made me better than anyone. But I absolutely held my morality over people. Go back and look at old blog entries and the message I’m sending out is very clear: “I am a very good person, so let me tell you how to be a very good person too.”

There are two problems with that:

  1. I believed that I was morally superior to everyone else even though I was not.
  2. I held everyone else to a higher moral standard, even though I myself did not meet that standard.

I think I’ve improved on this, but I do still slip up occasionally. Thinking that I’m somehow better than everyone else is a mistake – I am not. Placing someone up on a pedestal and thinking that they might be better than everyone else is also a mistake, and it’s probably the biggest reason why I’ve been disappointed by people so many times over the years. If I’d expected less – if my expectations were more reasonable, in other words – perhaps I’d not have lost so many friends over the years.

At the end of the day, I think Syndrome had it right: when everyone’s super – when everyone is special, when everyone is unique – no one is. Granted, Syndrome says it with a maniacal laugh and more than a touch of bitterness, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. Believing otherwise just leads to conflict.

Maybe I’ll call him up and see if he’d be interested in a career change. There may be a position in early childhood education with his name on – oh wait.

 

The Hare

I love Thanksgiving. Indeed, there’s very little I enjoy more than sharing a meal with 20 of the people I love most in this world.

This year, something was said that made me a little wistful though.

I’m not sure how we got onto the subject, but people started talking about me as a little kid. Four, five years old. Stories were shared about how I used to rattle off five digit addition or subtraction problems for fun, and how I used to impress family friends by solving equations in my head, and how I once asked for a calculator for Christmas.

I was being praised, and I know that. But in my head, I heard the follow-up question “What happened?”, and in answer to that unasked question, I could only shrug my shoulders and say to the rest of the table “I peaked early.”

See, math was my original love. Before I discovered linguistics, and video games, and history, and sports, and even before I fell in love with astronomy as a kid, there was math. I found numbers comforting because they were a constant. 2 + 2 is always 4, no matter what. I liked that. And I liked how no matter how complicated the problem, the pieces would always come together in the end. Math is nice and organized.

And I was good at it. Really good. I had addition and subtraction down before I started school. Multiplication came to me in Kindergarten. Division not too long after that.

I remember being six years old and getting my first workbook in school. Every day I ignored the teacher’s instructions to just do two or three pages and went through as many as I could. I finished the entire course on my own well before the rest of the class. My parents bought me a workbook intended for kids a year older than me, and I devoured that as well. They then bought me the book intended for kids two years older. Blitzed through it. Three years older? No problem.

And then, inexplicably, I started to coast.

I looked behind me and saw that it would literally take everyone else in the class years to catch up to me, and that there wasn’t any pressure on me to blaze ahead. So I coasted. I didn’t push forward, I didn’t try to improve, I didn’t try to get further ahead. I stopped pedaling and let my momentum carry me.

It worked for seven years. I was top of the class in math every year with no effort whatsoever. I was known to all as the smartest kid in class, and even the bullies took it a little bit easier on me because they needed my help from time to time.

The first signs of trouble were in the last year of elementary school. Algebra. For the first time ever, this was something I didn’t instantly get. It wasn’t impossible, but I actually had to think about it. That was a new feeling.

Then grade nine hit, and all hell broke loose. It was all fucking algebra, and it was hard. I was horrified. How could it be that I was suddenly struggling with math? Math, the one thing I knew above all else that I was good at. And suddenly I wasn’t that good.

I still finished with a very high mark that year, and I was still near the top of the class. But it seemed like just yesterday that I’d looked behind me and thought that no one would ever catch me. And I was wrong. It’s a classic tortoise and the hare narrative.

I cut math completely out of my academic life after high school – something that would have been unfathomable to me a decade prior. I had ample opportunity to take a math elective at some point in my undergrad, but I didn’t even consider it.

It’s not that I became terrible at math or anything. My grades were still well above average throughout high school, and my friend Matt from a few entries ago  still credits me with getting him through grade 11 functions class.

I just couldn’t stand to struggle with it.

I’m uncomfortable with struggling with school generally because school is something that I’ve always been good at. But I can at least tolerate struggling in most courses. I can tolerate a bit of struggle in an art course, or a language course, or a history course, or a science course, or an English course. But math, no. With math I couldn’t stand to be anything other than the best because that’s all that I’d known for most of my life.

When I’m reminded of how good I used to be at math like I was at Thanksgiving, it makes me think about what could have been.

I’m by no means awful at math today. I’m still above average compared with the general population. And I don’t hate math either – I particularly enjoy discovering quirky sports statistics to this day.

But if I hadn’t decided to coast as a six year old – if I’d kept going at full throttle for the next decade – how far could I have gone?

I wonder.