Thursday, February 21, 2019

Falling Down a Pasthole: Me and My Timehops

As any of the dozen or so actual humans who follow me on Twitter knows, for the past year I have been using the TimeHop app to dredge up some of my best tweets. Also my worst tweets, which are often the same things. The app has my entire Twitter history loaded onto it, and permits me the ambrosia of showing me every tweet I made on this calendar day on each of the past nine years of tweeting. It's been... a trip.

At first, I downloaded it out of idle curiosity, wanting to skim my own archives despite Twitter quite deliberately not having an easy way to do this. Then after the first time I used it, I found it was keeping track of my streak. Well, I thought, that sounds like a challenge that's fun for both me and my adoring followers, eager to hear my greatest hits again.

Every morning - because I got into the habit of opening that app over breakfast to ensure my streak lives on - I spend maybe 15 minutes backwards through my years. Back through the beginning of my current relationship, through two long-term retail jobs, across various blogging projects that I promoted on Twitter, back to my college years, to the beginning where I am frequently, optimistically, referring to things that I am writing, only for my decade-older self to look back and go "Hah, good luck with that."

I've been on Twitter since July 2009, and in that time I've somehow managed to expel 41,000 of those bad boys into the world (I know, I know, you've got more.) I've done them from the comfort of my home, from behind the counter of the retail jobs I've worked, from my desk at my current job. I've tweeted song lyrics that popped into my head, described interactions with customers, and probably participated in more @Midnight Hashtag Wars than I should ever admit. I've bickered with randos, but mostly just conversed with the same small group of friends that I made online around the time I came online.

I skim over a lot of it - quotidian stuff, "This sandwich is so good," "Good night everyone," "@leask Yeah, I think so," that sort of thing. Thousands of them. But there's some good stuff. Yes, my jokes lack what you might call "broad appeal," but every so often I am responsible for a tweet that I think must be the one that goes viral and gets me a book deal, but thankfully my followers have made a pact never to retweet anything I say so as to protect me from such a fate. Fascinatingly, I've discovered several instances of "Time is a Flat Circle" (as first outlined in the Matthew McConnaughey vehicle, "How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days.") Sometimes I discover something on TimeHop that is shockingly relevant to today's headlines, or that I had personally been thinking about days earlier, or - most eerily - that I tweeted about on the same day years apart.

Throughout all this, I've been able to briefly glimpse, and even slip back into the shoes of, the lives I've had before. As someone with a famously poor memory for the events of his own life, it has helped me to leave a trail of virtual breadcrumbs back to my best times - or even my worst ones. Like Guy Pearce in Memento, I've always needed reminders of the life I am actually living. Before Twitter it was the personal blog I started in high school (I won't link it, but if you know where it is, it's still there.) I particularly appreciate all the transcripts of times I sassed customers at my retail jobs (or more likely dreamed about it) or was otherwise nonplussed at the left-field nonsense I was putting up with daily. Sometimes it feels like I was being too hard on good people who were doing their best without the context for issues that arise in the store that I would have, but I largely stand by my former self as giving people the benefit of the doubt, only to be frequently disappointed by those who come at minimum wage earning retail jockeys just spoiling for a fight.

It's not all there, of course. Like any biography, it's well curated. I very rarely tweeted anything about the co-worker I dreaded seeing until he quit/got fired. I didn't like to tweet excitedly about dates I'd been on in case they went badly. Most of the juicy stuff, and certainly more detailed thoughts, made their way to other platforms. But there is a lot of me fawning over my now-fiancée, all throughout the four years of our relationship.

I watch my opinions change and my worldview grow, my approach to the online sphere maturing. When I first got on Twitter I was a 22-year-old University Kid who was wowed by the fact that some of my favourite celebrities and creative people were now in front of my face and, if I tweeted just the right thing at just the right time, stood a chance of @-ing me back or RT'ing. It was basically the 21st century equivalent of a 70's coke party at Robert Evans' house.

Nowadays I don't really follow anyone famous, or even noteworthy in their field. I really just follow a small collection of decent folks with usually good sense in what to retweet into my timeline, so that keeps me up to date on various media I don't have time for, what horrible thing the President of the United States has said or done, what to be outraged about, how cultural mores are constantly changing. I don't @ too many people, and when I do I usually don't expect to be @'ed back (although a well placed one to a prominent tweeter can get me some sweet, precious likes.)

I like having Twitter as a way of making dumb jokes to nobody in particular (this is also why I love being in a relationship but it turns out there are limits to what a partner will put up with.) I like using it to find out about the world. I hate that it is mostly a platform for bigotry and oppression, whose keepers refuse to do anything to de-platform those who visit evil upon the world. But outside of that it works for me. It's where a lot of my past, my identity, and my future lives. Some days it feels like the only thing keeping me connected to the world outside my apartment walls and my cubicle.

Once my streak has hit 365 days - only about a week from today - it seems only fair that I stop subjecting myself, and my loyal fans, to these reruns. Yes, I will have one more year to relive, but it's probably for the best that, as I head toward a life of marriage and responsibility, I not dwell too long on the past. What this experience has shown me is that, for all the frustrations and disappointments and compromises adult life brings, I'm happier and richer now than I have been at any point in my life. That and, I was super into live-tweeting NBC's Thursday Night Comedy lineup.

This all was a nice refresher, but I can let those echoes fade a bit now. Unless I'm, like, at the bus stop waiting for too long. Oh, and it would be nice to open it on February 29, 2020, since I missed out on any and all leap day posts.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Here We Keep Going Again: Mamma Mia and Us

The other night, we were flipping through the channels with much disappointment. Every one of our go-to cable distractions was a miss. There was nothing left on the PVR for us to burn through. We were lost. I excused myself to the restoom, and while I was in there, I heard from the other room the voice of one Christine Baranski softly crooning "Chiquitita" to Meryl Streep. I smirked - as is bound to happen from time to time, my fiancee had found Mamma Mia on TV somewhere.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Caging a Panther: Michael Finkel's Stranger in the Woods

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,   
has grown so weary that it cannot hold 
anything else. It seems to him there are 
a thousand bars; and behind the bars, no world. 

- Rainer Maria Rilke, "The Panther" (translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Beginning in the late 1980's, 20-year-old Maine resident Christopher Knight did something unthinkable - both because of how inconceivable and difficult it was, and how bananas-illegal. Knight drove into the Maine wilderness and left society completely - well, mostly - behind. Spending the next 25 years in a small encampment in the Maine woods, Knight survived not by hunting or farming but by pilfering supplies from a nearby summer camp and surrounding community. He was seen by only a handful of people during that time, although the "Hermit" became the stuff of local legend. His own family had no idea where he was or if he was even still alive. He's the subject of Michael Finkel's 2017 nonfiction book Stranger in the Woods, which took me almost 18 months to get around to reading, and several months since I finished to write about. ("Better Late Than Never" is a title I take to heart.)

Why'd I Nuke My Archive?

Astute longtime readers - of whom I assume/hope there are none - will note that I have been running for a lot longer than the 8 months or so the archives go back - intermittently, but certainly I've written more than the half-dozen or so musings that you can find on this blog.

It's true. I began this particular manifestation of my online presence in late 2013 after spending a few years writing exclusively about music, because I wanted to write about a comic once, maybe sometimes a movie or TV show. Who could forget my epic takedown of Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, which was so effective they never made another Man of Steel II.

Then after a while I decided I really didn't have that much to say about a wide variety of topics, and got back into music-blogging, which otherwise would have swallowed this blog whole. I had a whole concept, and for a year and change it was a pretty fruitful project. I liked it, I had fun.

I flipped back in late 2016 and managed to squink out a few more thoughts on poorly-executed comic book movies, but as I was ramping up my coverage of Old X-Men Comics elsewhere, it wasn't long before this URL went fallow again.

I came back again again last summer when ideas for dumb little observations, far too long for a Twitter Thread, kept occurring to me. I had a new idea how to use this space, which has only partially come to pass. By that time, the archive seemed like an anchor. How can you make a fresh start when you have all this old shit hanging around, reminding people you only post super-sporadically? Even if some of it was worth reading.

Ironically, I wanted to reinvigorate this blog as a place where I wrote about myself, told my story as well as recounting things I have consumed, but no longer wanted to sign my name to a bunch of old shit I wrote. But it was the truth - I flipped all the old posts on this blog to Drafts, because that's what they were. Every day of your life is just a rough draft of the next one. Get that tattooed on your neck.

We're all changing, every day - hopefully for the better. I spend a lot of time revisiting old things I've written through the magic of Timehop or being overly interested in my archives, but there's no reason to think that intererst is widespread. What I've found is, there's a pretty consistent throughline of self there - I'm the same person, with new versions of the same opinions. Some things I'm more adamant about than I used to be, some things I'm more relaxed. And that's cool, and sometimes I got it more right back then than I would now. And sometimes I just have no idea what I'm talking about -- there are already posts on this blog I think I should revert so I can do them again better later.

Someday, if I deem it necessary, I'll go back and repost some of the good stuff. But I found it just as easy, for my purposes, to KonMari the whole lot of it and start fresh.

You know, like I already have with three or four other blogs.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Into the Truth Booth: MTV's 'Are You The One?' and me

If your perfect match was standing right in front of you, would you even know?

I have to admit a certain fondness for the MTV "dating" show Are You The One, whose finale is currently sitting on my DVR, waiting for a night when I can stand to get good and upset at my tv.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Stranger Than Fiction: My Grant Morrison Writer Magic Moment

A funny thing happened to me just after I wrote my last post, reminscing, almost completely unprompted and with no point except perhaps a lightly antifascist conclusion at the end, about one very specific mostly irrelevant class I took in high school. Not ha ha funny, more Alanis Morissette "Ironic" funny (but definitely funnier than a 90s comic dunking on the lyrics to "Ironic.") I ran into somebody I knew from back then.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Stuff I Did: "Entrepreneurial Studies"

When I was in Grade 11, which is what Canadians call the eleventh grade, I was at the point in High School where they really let you start determining your path by choosing various electives that might prepare you for the real world, or prepare you for something that might prepare you for the real world. I was a bright young man seemingly with a great future ahead of me, so I did what anyone would do in my situation: I chose a path that offered almost no challenges and little of value. Ancient Civilizations? Philosophy? Drama?? I was clearly just picking classes I thought would be fun, and to be honest, they were, and as a result it only took me an extra decade to get my first job with a desk.

For whatever reason, I ended up taking a class on Entrepreneurial studies. At the time, I didn't foresee myself working for "the man." I envisioned going into business for myself, monetizing my passion for self-produced comics and becoming the iconoclastic creative genius I always assumed I really was.  Actually, I can only assume this was the thought process in selecting this class, because it may or may not have seemed like a validation of my concept of myself as a future struggling, starving, self-employed creative writer scrounging from job to job. It's not like I figured I would open a muffler shop.

The class ended up being one of the most frustrating courses I ever took in school. The daily course mostly involved watching a series of videos called "Entrepreneurship For Canadians" hosted by a sketch comic named Peter Wildman, who was part of a now-ancient and forgotten Canadian troupe called The Frantics. I remember zero-all about the content of these videos, which mostly profiled small business owners and probably highlighted legal and bureaucratic matters they faced, except for the creeping realization that Wildman had performed the voice of the villainous Mojo in the 1990's X-Men cartoon.

Pictured: Entrepreneurship, actually

A lot of my friends were in the class and once it became clear that the teacher, an aged biddy named Ms. Irvine, had little interest in actually performing the act of education more than once or twice a month, we gave up whatever hope we had of learning anything about becoming successful entrepreneurs and goofed off, slagging out of class to execute raids on the third-floor supply office to steal pens.

The final presentation was to create a mock business-plan. Irvine had alerted us that we could pick any business we wanted, but strongly advised against picking a restaurant because they had too many extra moving parts. My friend Doug, then an aspiring actor, who was my partner for this project, had his heart set on owning a little nightclub that featured standup comedy. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it wasn't real, and went along. We barely passed with a 55. Maybe someone could have overcome the prohibitive logistics of owning a restaurant - people actually do that, you know - but not someone who spent the entire semester yukking it up about Peter Wildman's dad jeans.

Between videos, Irvine often presented us with clippings from the business section that were vaguely pertinent to businesses and business owners, but again, reeked of just scrambling to fill time. It was there that I learned that Justin Timberlake had signed on to be the face of McDonald's' new advertising campaign, "I'm Lovin' It," for which he had composed the signature song - a catchphrase which has somehow managed to survive for a decade and a half!

It was also in Entrepreneurial Studies that I first encountered, in a seemingly completely innocuous way, one of the great evils of our times. It was during this time that renowned owner of businesses Donald Trump had signed a deal to produce, and star in, a reality TV competition show that involved him picking a potential new employee for one of his businesses. At the time I was only vaguely aware that Donald Trump was a rich person, well known for being rich, and that had something to do with real estate, or some shit. I had no idea that fifteen years later he would have the entire world in his withering, orange talon, all because he got extra-famous on TV for yelling at people, which made certain people see qualities of leadership and moral guidance in him, somehow.

There's a lesson in here, somewhere, about the importance of education... not necessarily for yourself, but for the world at large. You know, I don't regret the shit I went to school for and tried to learn. I don't regret that it didn't lead directly to me being gainfully employed and enjoying a meteoric success, or that I never started my own business, whose pitfalls I was able to navigate thanks to my deft studying of Entrepreneurship in high school. None of it kept me from landing in a modest occupation on the wrong side of the publishing industry I dreamed of contributing to. But I don't regret any of it because any education I received, at any level, in ant institution or on my own time, has been in the service of making me a compassionate, curious individual who values only what's best for our world and the people who live on it - and that I fucking hate Nazis.

Keep on Rockin'