The New Normal

November. November? November!

Grueling, inspiring, humbling, horrifying. 2020–the year words fail to capture.

It had to be lived to be believed.

My work hasn’t changed considerably this year. As a emergency psychiatrist, mental health crises have continued and so I’ve just had to use my hands a lot more to communicate through PPE. Okay, there’s been a little more to it, but I’ve still been able to meet (!) new people every day of work, and feel valued and valuable. That isn’t true of many people, so I do consider myself fortunate.

I left NYC nine years ago now. Is it weird that most of my dreams still occur in my old apartments, elevators, or street corners there? Oddly, I never dream in Canadian. But one of the loose ends I left there was improv training at the Upright Citizens Brigade. As a weird quirk of the pandemic, however, they are now teaching improv online. Who would have predicted that a virus would allow me to re-connect with the Harold? It’s felt good though, to complete what I’d started ten years ago. I feel grateful for that.

And, speaking of improv, not only have I been able to do bi-weekly shows online with Oakville Improv, but I’ve been able to perform with people all over the world (India, LA, Hawaii), and even did a Maestro show with the Hideout Theatre in Austin, TX. Opportunities that I could not have imagined in 2019. Texas? Pretty cool.

But there is a restless, angsty anhedonia that has gripped me the last few months. I have found myself picking up and putting down books, wearing my carpet thin with pacing, endlessly googling things like “what should I do” as if Google is the Oracle at Delphi. But after some soul searching and staring at way too many eBay “research” purchases, I’ve decided to commit to writing the book that’s been haunting me for the last five years. And to do that, I’ve enrolled in a MFA program. Between extended deadlines and remote residencies, it’s an opportunity that I can (hopefully) make work. Surprising!

So, in these admittedly challenging times, I’m reminded that there is some awesomeness to be had.

Bosphoros Hat Trick, Zoomprov

My globe-trotting cousin Ryan Pyle and I had another conversation this weekend on Instagram Live. It will be up on YouTube in a few weeks. Trying to stay sane in the world of data and information was the general topic. Conditions that I don’t think our monkey brains were ever meant to tackle. To my mind, just as the novel coronavirus is an infectious agent that prays upon our unprepared biological vulnerabilities I kinda think that media/information is equally preying on our vulnerabilities.

Ryan’s aiming for a full hundred of these calls and has interviewed a wide range of eclectic individuals, so they’re worth checking out (as are his adventures in general).

And in these devastating times that are potentially devastating to live theater, I’ve been regularly playing with the team at Oakville Improv Theater Company semi-regularly. I know they have lots of things planned from fundraisers to classes to shows. I kind of hope we can find a way to bring live green-screening into the improv world, but I’d settle for just hearing laughter at the moment.

The Stranded Nomad

My cousin Ryan Pyle, happens to be one of those intrepid explorer-types. His work has been all over the place (New York Times, Discovery Channel, BBC, etc.), but little of it makes its way onto Canadian broadcasting.

When the whole Covid-19 situation hit, he found himself trapped in Istanbul–one of three guests in a 500-room hotel. Obviously an adventure unto itself.

He hosted an Instagram Live chat last Sunday where we chatted Istanbul’s veterinary practices, quarantine fever, and mental health. Good conversation with an interesting guy, we may do another one soon depending on how well sanity prevails in this current crisis.

He released the video on his YouTube channel, it’s worth checking out his stuff, especially if you’re stir crazy in your own four walls. I’m partial to his Extreme Treks series, which is streaming on Amazon Prime if you’ve got it.

My Post-Ninja Life

It has been some time since I updated anything, so I figured that it was time to say something, if only to prove I’m still breathing…ish.

And so, a story.

Upon reaching middle age, I took it upon myself to try to get in shape, recognizing that if it hadn’t happened by now, when exactly would it? I have never been a runner, still don’t like running, but with some support and commitment made it through a 5K last December.

So impressed with myself was I that I decided to become a triathlete. I bought a bike, and started swimming again (including briefly in Lake Ontario). I did an indoor triathlon in the winter, and then two sprint-distances (750m/30+km/5+km) this summer. Was I good? Nope, still a terrible runner! But I survived. And in surviving, I had the refreshing realization that competition, something generally absent in day-to-day adult life, is fun.

As a newly-minted competitive athlete, none were more impressed my prowess than my daughters who, for Father’s Day, took me to a local climbing gym that advertised a Ninja Warrior-style course. The hallmark being, to any Ninja Warrior fan out there, the dreaded Warped Wall.

I did the ten-foot version with ease. Then, one step into the twelve-footer, I completely ruptured my right Achilles’ tendon. Based on the response I get daily, this is the middle-aged man’s equivalent of giving birth. Everyone grimaces, then asks me just how painful it was. My answer is that shock goes a long way for dealing with pain, as I proceeded to drive myself with an impotent foot the twenty minutes to the nearest hospital. Not good judgment, don’t recommend.

The Canadian approach is generally non-operative and based on the notion that if you don’t move your foot for a few months, the tendon will reattach. I am currently on week ten and can only hope that my body is complying. Time will tell.

Along the way, the experience has sucked in ways I couldn’t have imagined beforehand. Crutches wreak havoc on one’s back, but so do fancy scooters, and one-legged showers. In cast or boot, I haven’t slept decently in months, and developed an aspirin sensitivity making my skin peel off.

And to kick me while down on the floor (I’ve developed an aversion to stairs), my laptop decided to implode and I lost a good six months of writing and revision.

I am prone to belief in silver-linings, the value of trials, or karma, but this has been a lesson nonetheless. When taken as a year, I have had the most difficult physical challenges of my life–some voluntarily and some involuntarily. And if something that has come from this, I hope it’s this:

Life is not relaxing. Life has no status quo. It is not a plateau that is reached and maintained. Life is growing or it is dying, but it is not respite in between.

There are days I long for routine again, but there’s danger there. Routine is the assumption that each day progresses like the day before. That is both incredibly fortunate and quite boring.

Once I’m done healing, I hope to be back to growing, improving, creating. And driving. Oh, how I miss driving.

 

 

Deltas of Deltas

I am approaching a major birthday. I wish I could say that it had me celebrating with glee, but as I have come to understand, there is a sadistic glee savored only by loved ones as they  repeatedly ask: “How does it feel to turn XXX?”

This, you understand, is bait. Bait for you to deny having any feelings (to which the appropriate response is: “REALLY? But your twenties are gone!!!!”), or alternatively, to confess the internal struggle (to which the appropriate response is: “but you’re not a complete failure, you once…<insert accomplishment here>).

And in reflection, (excuse an old man’s senescence as he waxes philosophical-like about this life-journey thing) this has taught me a lot about three things: distance, velocity, acceleration.

Distance. The amount accomplished. The time passed. The change in position from start to current time. When we reflect on distance, we think back to those meaningful pitstops or accomplishments along the way. We also meet people whose self-esteem and sense of fulfillment are linked to distance. They talk about their promotion, the day their grandchild was born, the time they made the catch. Accomplishment holds the answer.

Velocity. The rate of change of accomplishment. This is the present-known. This is an intellectual appreciation that things are changing and that if they continue on their current course they will lead to more good things. For those attached to velocity, life is but a single frame in a motion picture, a note in a larger piece. These people have patience, vision, trust. They see tomorrow. They have internalized the lesson that the sun also rises, and one day at a time.

Acceleration. The rate of change of the rate of change. This is the present-felt. Anyone on an airplane or a train or moving car will remember that we don’t feel distance, we don’t feel velocity, we feel acceleration. For the person whose self-esteem is attached to acceleration, they need to have deltas of deltas. And if there is no change in the rate of accomplishment (i.e., my children are developing, my mortgage is being paid down, I am getting more experience) then there is no feeling, no satisfaction. For this group, the only pleasure is in the upswing, unsustainable as it may be. And hence, they’re mostly miserable.

And so, with any discussion of life, one will inevitably hear a game of verbal three-card monty.

The person that says she’s done nothing with her life will be told “but look ahead, things are changing!”

The person who says that things aren’t happening fast enough, will be told “but look how far they’ve come!”

And the person who has faith in velocity will smirk at them both.

Chance of a Lifetime

I joined The Listserve in April 2012, just about the time the project began. The premise, for those unfamiliar is a daily email from one of the 23,000 list subscribers chosen at random.

So, for the last 1100 or so days I’ve read through the emails I’ve received, and of course wondering what I would share when the day came. There was a time a few years ago I would have written something deeply insightful about depression and hopelessness. There was a time I would have written gracefully and gratefully about the people who have helped me get where I am. Or about being a dad. Or self-helpy shrink advice. Or promote myself.

Well, I was chosen on Friday and instead of any of those I submitted a fictional piece that only works if you believe that Satan subscribes to the list. MLM Hell, so to speak.

And so, in case you receive the email and happen to go searching for whoever blew their chance to *really* introduce himself. Ya found me!

UPDATE: The Listserve archives all submissions, so mine can be found Listserve Archived post.

Summertime, and the living is…restless?

It’s been a while since I’ve put in an appearance here. Why? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been getting really sick of opinions. Not just everyone else’s, but my own, too. The internet is a geyser of opinion and there are many a day that silence seems the only appropriate response.

Good news! The Full Lazenby, a short of mine that was published in last year’s Unidentified Funny Objects 3, will appear again, this time in Imaginarium 4 the annual compilation of best Canadian speculative fiction. And who is writing the introduction? Margaret <frickin’> Atwood. Jesus, I can’t wait to hold it.

I’ve been performing 3-4 times/month with Oakville Improv both in the family-friendly venues and over at the Moonshine Cafe. The group has really become quite fun and funny–not always the case in improv. Check us out if you’re local.

In real life, the last few months have been really tough. We’ve lost a parent and are worried about another family member who has become quite ill. We moved again, this time for permanence. Work, as always, is challenging in every conceivable manner. My health is good. My daughters are lovely. I’m learning to meditate.

And then there’s writing. I’ve come to accept that my process (as it currently stands) is that when I have an idea that I’m obsessed about and that if, on my death bed, I had not seen complete would be heartbroken over, I set to work. Now frequently, the various drafts and/or rejections kill the death bed regret and the project stalls. But I’ve been spending the last two months reading biographies, Italian history and literature as research for a ridiculously ambitious project. We’ll see just how far I get, but the outline is almost complete and it feels pretty cracking.

I can spin it two ways: What if there was a physics of the mind? or, more pithily, Freud and Einstein solve mysteries. Is your jaw off the floor yet? Are you losing your <frickin’> mind? Good. I am too.

Out of Line!

I spent the bulk of 2014 with a fantastic group of improvisers in the Bad Dog Ensemble Studio Series. We had such a great time together that we’re putting on a run of shows starting this Sunday under the name Meet Cute.

The format is one of our own creation that we’re calling Out of Line.Out of Line

So, if you’re in the Toronto area and looking for a fun way to spend your Sunday evenings, grab tickets through the Bad Dog website. The theatre holds about fifty so act now!

We will even have some great guests at a few of the shows.