Thoughts on Christmas Eve

I am sitting in the basement of my parents’ home on Christmas eve. Upstairs, five fine adults are chatting away and drinking whiskey. I say ‘adults’ because they’re all older than me by at least 28 years, and Christmas evokes a certain separation between generations. Christmas evokes all sorts of things. Just the word “Christmas” has a bajillion scoville units of stigma associated with it. The holiday season is, for many, the most depressing time of year. Why is that, when the “point” of the season is to be “merry”? I can’t answer that question. But I am going through a lot of emotions of my own, and today, I feel I made an important discovery.

I am going through what I must, for lack of a better word, call “love”. We don’t know how the hell it works, despite the millions of poets who have dedicated their lives to its study. Yet, so often, we try to piece it together for ourselves. It’s like catching a spore. Approach too quickly and your movement will cause air currents to move the spore, making your effort self-defeating. And if you let that defeat get to your mind, you’ll start thinking things like “Augh I suck at catching it” and “There’s no way to catch it” or “What the hell am I doing wrong? WHY CAN’T I CATCH IT?!” This in turn makes you more tense, which makes your efforts more erratic, desperate, pointless. Then you’re at a crossroads. Either give up entirely, remembering only the pain of your efforts; or, close your eyes, take a deep breath, reassure yourself you’re just trying too hard, and determine to try again tomorrow. It will be easier. Promise.

The importance of forgetting your failures cannot be emphasised enough when it comes to love. You will find yourself treating yourself and your new partner like you did the You of Olde, and your partner, the same way you did in that previous, awful, and toxic relationship. And you might never even notice you’re doing it.

This has happened to me. My multiple, long relationships with people for whom I didn’t have a strong romantic attraction caused major bad habits for me. I would tense up to avoid feeling my real emotions. I was super tense for years. I cried maybe once a year. In the last six months I’m sure I’ve cried like twenty-five times already. Crying is a good thing, by the way. It means you’re feeling your emotions. It means your mind and spirit are connected.

So when I entered this new relationship, I had a pair of intense, conflicting sensations. Being madly, crazy in love with someone is something I am rediscovering after a ~10 year hiatus. So this was refreshing and new, and very welcome. Happy!

On the other hand, I have the unfortunate habits of tensing up and blocking off my feelings whenever “relationship building” occurred. So I would try to feel the way I had before. Catching a spore with brute force. When I get like that, I say all sorts of shit I don’t actually feel that just makes it worse. It is a terrible time for all involved. Especially when we’re really in love. It makes everything really confusing.

On Christmas, there is a certain expectation to be cheerful. You tend to see more people in your life than usual. You are expected to give so much, to love everyone you can to your fullest. It’s fucking exhausting. And then you’re left drained, without feelings to feel. But it’s still Christmas and you still have to be cheerful. So you try. And you get tense. And it gets worse.

Mindfulness is key. When you feel “bad” (blanket term for you-know-what-feeling), take stock. Are you just drained? It’s okay to be tired. Just live in the moment.

Today, all these discoveries, combined with writing emotional letters to various loved ones, drained me. After I was like, “I feel ‘bad’ now. Should I give this letter to my lovely? Do I feel the things I felt when I wrote it?” Well, no, not right now. Right now I’m drained and need a break from feeling. I know how I felt then. Those feelings were real. This feeling is not a negation of that feeling, it’s just a tired feeling, which is okay. I took a deep breath and decided to enjoy, to my best ability, the kitchen I was in as I cut the carrots to make the soup. I soon forgot about my emotional issues (as much as is possible) and was just “tired”. Which is okay. No one will think worse of me for being emotionally tired during Christmas. Because everyone goes through the same shit. We all get it but no one wants to talk about it. Because it’s Christmas and we’re supposed to be merry. 9_9

Stay true to yourself, right now. Feel your emotions, not what you think you ought to feel. And it’s okay to be tired. It will pass. And if people ask how you are, if you’re okay, tell them: yes. I am okay. I am just tired. Thanks for asking.

I love you. Enjoy the winter as much as you can, even if it’s cold (or warm…?).

And thanks for reading.

-T

“Don’t Follow My Advice”

Long ago in theatre school, I developed what I came to call my “bullshit filter.” I had four or five different teachers all teaching you their own method of acting Some of them were in direct conflict with one another. In such a situation it is necessary to pick and choose what works for you. I came to know it as the “bullshit filter” because one teacher in particular gave me advice that contradicted his own previous advice. I had to filter out what was being purported in sheer octogenarian passion, and recognise what came from real wisdom of the ages. It is still an invaluable tool. It allows me to listen to someone and understand their point, observe whether the point comes from ignorance or experience, and deal with it accordingly.

Sometimes, however, the bullshit filter is wrong. I dismiss something as rubbish that is really brilliant. Thankfully, I forget about it, and my subconscious is able to process it more thoroughly than my thinking brain can. I discussed this principle in my Primer on Metaphors. Your subconscious mind can work on a problem, and often solve it on its own, only if you’re not thinking about it consciously. Recently, I’ve begun calling this process “feeling about” things. Ideas may change your feelings. Even a minute change from the right idea can have huge implications when dealing with incoming information.

I recently read a book called The Choose Yourself Guide to Wealth, by James Altucher. Altucher is a successful entrepreneur, author, and speaker. His books, The Power of No, and Choose Yourself, have changed thousands of lives. He gives great advice! He really does. Many times did I smile and nod while reading his words.

Which is why it struck me as so odd every time he repeated, “Don’t follow my advice.”

Wait – what? I shouldn’t follow your – but, it’s a self-help book! I’m in it for the advice!

Altucher’s advice tends to be completely “against the grain”. He tells you: never buy a house; never go to college; quit your job; write down ten bad ideas a day; never invest more than 30% of your capital (no more than 2% in any one thing); never do anything on a to-do list. Then he tells you not to follow any of it.

I used to be a very cognitive person. When faced with a choice, I would rarely go with my gut; instead, I would actively think, weigh the pros and cons, and choose the optimal side. Sometimes, I was right; it would feel good. Sometimes I was wrong. On some level, I always knew what my gut wanted me to do, but I would ignore that feeling. And that feeling is… let’s say, almost never wrong. You know that sinking feeling you have, when you leave home, that you’ve forgotten something? And how often was that feeling actually wrong? For me, it has always been correct (not to say that I always have that feeling when I forget something, I forget things places all the time, but never mind that). That’s intuition. Intuition speaks directly to our heart, from our spirit*. If we act “impulsively” or “intuitively” the brain doesn’t need to get involved. The brain obeys the heart. But the brain can get involved, and interpret the signals. This can be good, or bad. Everything in balance, yeah?

Now, I am more in tune with my feelings, my spirituality. I have learned that a “good feeling” about something is worth much more than a positive analysis. So when I get that feeling of “I forgot something”, I know I forgot something. I then make the decision (impulsively) whether to scour my apartment for the thing, or go on with the knowledge that I don’t have everything that I need, and the faith that it will work out anyway. I do what I feel I should do.

What Altucher is doing when he says to dismiss his own ideas, is tricking us into feeling about his advice, rather than thinking about it. He doesn’t know anything about your life. No advice is universal. And trying to shoehorn advice onto a life that doesn’t fit can hurt a lot. He recognises this. He must have gone through it himself, with his own self help books. So he gives our minds a shortcut to forgetting our advice, by dismissing it outright. The sediment of his wisdom is allowed to coalesce at the bottom of our mind-tanks, where the subconscious can chew on it and send its droppings back up to conscious thought.

The end result is we recognise his advice will not work for us out of the box. We, like he did, will have to come up with our own method of self-improvement. His real success is if we recognise that this one book was insufficient, and we need more ideas from more people to find what’s right for us, how to craft our own lifestyle to make us the best we can be.

Maybe buying a home is exactly what you need. He calls it a bad investment, but who knows? it might be perfect for you.

I now think about purchases in terms of: is that worth more than 2% of my total capital? If so I might not buy it. But I might also get a feeling like: this is going to be worth it, even though it’s worth 10% of my capital. This makes a lot more sense when you consider I only have currently about $1,200 to my name.

He talks about creating scarcity to drum up demand. Having forgotten about his advice, I was able to transfer that advice from being about a product or service, to being about me. I am the only product or service I have, basically, so in making myself scarce, I make myself more valuable.

“Don’t follow my advice” turns out to be his best advice. It just makes the whole book gentle. And that’s what we need, us reading these self-help books. You can’t strong-arm someone to self-improvement. You can bring a neurotic to the water of emotional balance, but you cannot have him drink it without dissolving a purifying tablet in a BPA-free bottle.

Thanks for reading. But don’t follow my advice! =]

-T

Adam, Eve, the Weeping Willow

Deep in Eden’s garden grove,
Two figures slept in safest cove.
They dream of snakes and angels grand
Which makes their arm hair on end stand.

A racket wakes them presently,
Expels their dreams too suddenly.
A look outside and they could tell
Their heaven had become a hell.

A rain of fire and globs of tar
A rain of thorns that quite sharp are
Explode the trees known from their youth
Which told them all of nature’s truth.

The two look on with mouths agape,
“How did this havoc come to shape?”
“I cannot know nor do not need,
We must go now, and do our deed!”

Eve who has a medic’s touch
Runs to find the Garden’s Sun.
Its light eclipsed would spell a doom,
For souls not ‘ready in their tomb.

Bravely Eve defends the Sun,
Blocking blows, but missing some;
The sun’s strong light begins to dim,
As thorns and tar surround its rim.

Adam with his longer gait,
Goes to question wise old Fate:
Why do Plagues from Heaven fall?
Where are the Garden’s critters all?

After marching for an hour,
Adam’s face began to dour.
“Where is that prophet’s home again?
Another hour, we’ll all be dead!”

Without conviction, wandering,
By rains assaulted, whimpering,
The darkness closes in on him,
His prospects looking super grim.

Suddenly, without a sign,
The stars decided to align:
No tar, no thorns, no blazing fire
Fell down upon the wounded shire.

Herself empowered by the Sun,
Whose light’s pizzazz was nearing none,
Eve casts a spell she thinks she knows,
Which magnifies the orb’s bright glow.

Instantly the light destroys
The blackness messing with its poise;
Her spell too strong, poor hapless Eve
Is of her eyes’ employ bereaved.

Presently she hears a sound –
It’s Adam slinking, like a hound
Returning from a hunting trip
No prizes hanging from its lip.

“Adam! Adam! Is that you?
I cannot see, my eyes are screwed!
There’s just one thing to cure my sight:
The Weeping Willow’s tears of white.”

“The way is long,” replies the man,
“I don’t believe I even can.
My joints are sticky, muscles rent,
My feet are burnt, and I am spent.”

“Perk up!” says Eve, her tone surprised.
“The passage there I’ve memorized.
I’ll heal your wounds when I can see,
Then we return to sleep and dreams.”

So off they go to find the tree
Whose holy sap they need to free.
But chaos managed by the Skies
Transformed the treescapes into sties.

With Adam having to describe
The changèd landscape every stride,
The pair advancèd languidly
Through vines, dead trees, and black debris.

“No more for now,” cries Adam, bent,
When they had more than halfway went.
“My resting will not be complete
Till I’ve these daggers from my feet.”

“Give me your foot, I’ll take good care.
Relax, feel free to cry, there, there.”
As her hands move o’er his toes,
The blisters, burns, and cuts did close.

While she works her loving ways,
Adam drinks the Sun’s strong gaze.
“The light is brighter now than ever,
You must have done a thing quite clever!

“Each leaf portrays a thousand hues,
Each stream a hundred million blues.
I’ve never seen a nicer spot!”
She answered, “Thanks, oh, thanks a lot.”

The rest complete, the healing done,
The pair move forward at a run.
“My sight is slightly better now,
We will move quickly to the bough.”

After walking for a while,
Eve stopped dead, begins to smile.
“It’s not five minutes hence, you’ll see,
I feel the sacred meadow’s plea!”

Just then, a crimson glow descends,
Which Adam his attention lends.
An angel, just like in his dreams,
With sword of ice and shield of greens.

“What do I sense that blocks our path?”
Inquires the ordinary lass.
“It is an angel, O so bright,
I will not let it from my sight!”

The angel drifts away, and Adam
Leaves behind his addled madam.
The light is fading, night will fall,
And she alone must bear it all.

All night she waits in such a huff,
And though she thinks herself quite tough,
She dares not move or stir or speak,
Lest her station turn more bleak.

Finally the man returned,
Though saying he hath nothing learned.
They continued on to see
The valley of the sacred tree.

Eve, though sightless, looks and sees,
The trouble taken by the trees.
All her fears at once confirmed,
At sobs from Adam’s apple heard.

“The tree is dead!” he cries on his knees,
“Have none from heaven heard our pleas?
I have no tears, these sobs are dry;
We cannot live if we cannot cry!”

Adam collapses, pounds the ground,
His weeping now the only sound.
Eve, in hearing his despair,
Embraces him with arms and hair.

Adam, sick of breathing weird,
Lifts his head and wipes his beard.
“The angel gave its feather me,
What good it does, I cannot see.”

The feather, lithe, delightful thing,
A manic warmth to Eve now brings.
Her heart’s enjoyment joins the choir,
And from her eyes, great tears transpire.

Healing tears from stricken eyes,
Roll down her cheek and on his thighs,
And pool upon the ground so dry:
Keen ears might hear a little sigh.

Eve and Adam, both with eyes that see,
Espy a wondrous, magic feat:
From scene of death, a little sapling,
With the earth and stones a-grappling.

The Weeping Willow, new again,
Delights the duo to no end.
They swear an oath to visit more
The tree which they have helped restore.

A Feeling More Obscure

How can I know a feeling more obscure
Than that thy glowing image now recalls?
A joy like laughing kids, so freaking pure
It spilleth o’er and down my cheek it falls.

The raddest toy for Christmas bought in June
Would cause that kid’s emotions to go nuts
Reveal’d by hapless parents way too soon
And then in cruellest closets tightly shut.

What pleasure can I get from saddest truth!
And like, my greatest pain from greatest joy.
The masochism of a patient youth
I must preserve to keep my wit’s employ.

And if that Christmas never comes to pass
I’ll find that glowing in another lass.

How (and why) to Wear a Skirt (as a man)

Right now I’m on a train headed to Toronto, and I will be on another train coming back, late tomorrow evening. I’ll be participating in a photoshoot at Ryerson University as part of a research project on men’s fashion. The focus of the study is men of my generation who are using fashion to express themselves, and changing what “masculinity” means in the process. I am expressing myself right now, with my fashion. It feels awesome, empowering, and graceful to wear this skirt.

I didn’t always wear skirts. I don’t always wear skirts. The vast majority of this year, my legs have been surrounded by inflexible tubes of fabric ready to tear in the crotch at the first full squat. This is how I got started wearing them, stopped, and started again.

At the beginning of 2015, I was not myself. I was “Travis”, yes. But I had little inkling of a soul, and no idea that I could be hiding feelings from myself. I ought to know what I’m feeling, right? Ours is an unfortunate society where many people cannot identify this feelingless feeling.

It began to change gradually when I was exposed to people who had the spiritual bent. They helped me look inside. I began experiencing myself on levels unknown for perhaps my early childhood. I realised eventually I needed to end the relationship which I paradoxically kept to dull my emotions. In June, it happened. I had shed the final vestiges of my heart’s steel armour – and I was ready to experiment.

Two weeks after this break-up, I left for Toronto, where I would stay for 3 weeks. I was performing in a rock opera aptly called “Johnny Legdick, A Rock Opera.” I played a pantsless half-horse named Steve the Steed. We had done the show three times before, in increasingly awesome venues in Montreal, and were ready to hit the Toronto Fringe. I took a Megabus with two of my colleagues.

Not one hour over the Quebec/Ontario border, the bus crashed. It clipped a truck and careened into the ditch where it was “gently” slowed to a stop by the treeline. I came out of it with little but whiplash and some traumatic images.

I view this event symbolically. The old, self-repressed, scared-of-his-emotions Travis was the only casualty of that event. I emerged, both stronger and more sensitive.

When we finally arrived in Toronto the next day, we had to find new clothes. Our luggage was being kept by police for two weeks. So, I set out to build a whole new wardrobe. I have recently become conscious of where I buy my clothes. I refuse to support companies that outsource production to sweat shops. So, we went to Value Village, and other vintage shops. (I also bought a pair of brown jeans hand-made in California, at the opposite end of that spectrum.) And I was determined my new wardrobe would include skirts.

I had always admired the wearing of skirts. “It must feel so free!” I would think, and every Scotsman would reply, “Well, duh!” I wanted to be graceful and elegant. I didn’t want to always be “the man”. I had been determined to find ankle-length flowy skirts. My legs being absurdly long, I settled for a calf-length flowy red skirt, and a knee-length green, um, pencil skirt? I don’t know, it’s just a tube with an elastic waistband.

Wearing them in Toronto felt awesome. I was exhibiting this new me. Everyone in the cast of Legdick (and in the bizarro world of the Fringe community) was super supportive. I did get some looks but that was part of the fun. I was spotted by a researcher for Ryerson wearing one, and got recruited for this photoshoot. I felt super vindicated.

When I returned to Montreal, I showed my new wardrobe to some specific, influential females in my life. I was incensed when they had constructive criticism. No such criticism existed in Toronto! I became aware that I didn’t know how to wear a skirt. I didn’t have the right shirts, or shoes. I started getting self-conscious. I bought a third skirt because it looked perfect (the one I’m wearing now! Brown and black skirt that buttons down the whole way). I wore it once outside, and after that, I stopped wearing skirts for months. Until today, in fact.

I felt so anxious walking down the street in that thing. I was afraid everyone was judging me. Either my outfit was dumb, or just the fact that it’s a guy wearing a skirt… I couldn’t relax. And what was worse, I was trying the whole time not to be anxious. I think we all know what that feels like. I suddenly developed this icky feeling for this skirt and by extension all skirts, and hey it was getting to be Fall anyway, so I might as well just retire them for the year.

But fall means fall fashion! I took a trip to value village and added some key items to my wardrobe. Nicer shirts, some boss ties, and at Eva B I bought a couple of chic vests. I started making snazzypants outfits and dressing in a hodge-podge three-piece suit on any old occasion. “Why are you so dressed up?” people would ask. That’s just who I am now. A guy who dresses nice for no reason, just for fun. Because it makes me feel good.

I know what you’re thinking. This wouldn’t be The True Life Story of a Pioneer without a little Maxwell Maltz, right? =)

Earlier this week, I read a chapter of Psycho-Cybernetics entitled “That Winning Feeling.” Before we continue, I want you to do a little exercise for me. When you finish reading this paragraph, close your eyes and imagine a moment in your life where you felt awesome. You were challenged, and you overcame that challenge, and you felt worthy.

Got it?

If it doesn’t come easily, try again. Go into vivid details. What were you wearing? What sort of sounds did you hear? Was anyone else there? And get in touch with that “That Winning Feeling.”

I can’t explain it any better than this, really. It’s just that feeling you get when things are going awesome – specifically, in a crisis situation. Crisis situation, here, refers to any situation where there’s a risk of failure and a reward for success. Public speaking, a darts competition, any video game, telling someone you love them…. In such situations, you have two paths: get anxious and freak out and probably fail, or stay cool, feel awesome, and probably win. Even if you don’t win, at least you failed and felt cool and awesome. If you could harness that feeling, call upon it at will, wouldn’t life be smoother?

Let’s say you’re a ten year old girl playing the violin. You are about to play your first recital. There are going to be like fifty people there! It’s easy to play on your own; if you screw up in your room no one cares. But now everyone will hear every mistake. The stakes are high!

Of course, the fear is unfounded. You are just as capable of playing on a stage in front of an audience as in your room. But distractions – like people watching – makes it harder to concentrate, and thus to get “That Winning Feeling”.

Our body-machines function by reacting to external impulses. The first time we experience a new impulse, we form new neural pathways which dictate how we deal with the situation. This is how muscle memory works. The mind thinks, “It’s time to play Frère Jacques,” and the body knows what to do because it’s played the piece a hundred times. The pathways are there, it’s pretty much a highway at this point, so it goes for it. No need for thoughts. Thoughts get in the way. But when you add a new impulse, the audience, suddenly it’s a whole new experience.

Meditation is focusing absolutely on one thing, material or abstract, without thinking. Just comprehending it on a spiritual level. Thoughts will always pop up, of course. It is the mistake of newbie meditators to believe we should be able to immediately dive into a trance and change our life in half an hour of sitting and closing our eyes. We must, over and over, develop the reflex to let the thoughts pass through, without provoking new thoughts. It is difficult and requires daily practice for many years.

I have a hunch that “That Winning Feeling” is the term Maxwell Maltz used to describe “Flow,” which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes in more detail. Tl;dr: “Flow” is when you’re so involved in an activity you lose sense of time, identity, disconnect from reality, you’re just IN IT. In the ZONE. You know what I mean.

Meditation is the purest and most difficult flow activity. The aim in meditation is to achieve flow when there is no activity. Other activities, where you’re actually doing something, can induce a flow state much more easily. But the same principle of dismissing thoughts applies.

If you, as the 10 year old violinist, had already meditated every day since she was 5, it might not be so tough. She would be able to recognise the invasive thoughts (doubts) as what they are and dismiss them, and just give a great performance without fear. This is unlikely, however. Most of us are not gurus. There is, thankfully, a faster way to overcome the pressures that a crisis situation can impose.

We can acclimatise our bodies to stressful situations, much like diving. The key is gradualness. If you dive too deep too quick, your lungs will implode. Before performing for fifty people, do a private performance for your sister. She’s already seen the worst in you, so no harm in screwing up. Then add your parents. Then a couple of friends. Already, just by practicing in a low-stress, zero-risk, setting, the idea of performing in front of people is less daunting. You begin to open to the idea that it’s not the end of the world if you make a little mistake. But it’s still not fifty people, I mean come on.

The next step is to visualise. Recall once more that pleasant memory from before. That is an image – in the “imagination” sense of the word. It’s a “slice” of imagination. The great thing about being human is we can create our own “slice” that have never existed. Use the same technique of remembering to “remember” an upcoming crisis event. Look at yourself from the outside performing admirably, with poise, undisturbed – even unaware – of onlookers. Go into the same detail as in the memory. Conjure up that feeling once again. You are actively creating pathways in preparation for the real thing. The brain can’t tell between a real experience and a vividly imagined one. So it is possible, and desirable, to trick the brain into knowing that we’ve already done this before and it’s easy and feels awesome.

My “lungs imploded” when I went down the street in that skirt. I put too much importance on it. I chalked it down as a failed experiment and dropped the whole project. My mistake was jumping into the “fashionable person” identity with skirts before developing actual fashion sense. So I acclimatised myself by being comfortable standing out – looking dapper often and publicly. Now I better equipped, both with fashion and self-awareness.

I spent five minutes this morning picturing myself walking down the street, waiting for the bus, sitting on the train, in my skirt, and feeling awesome. People looked and I knew they were looking. I even imagined myself forgetting about what I was wearing. They’re just clothes. I’m not constantly thinking about the pants I wear.

I have felt awesome about wearing this skirt all day. And tomorrow, I will feel awesome in front of the camera. And I won’t focus on my clothes, but on my action – for photography is not about what the photo looks like, but what is happening in it.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself in a “crisis situation.” Prepare yourself, and there is nothing you can’t do.

Thanks for reading. You’re the best. =]

-T