Stay Focused

What would you do if you weren’t so afraid? What would I do?

I’d read.

Right now, as I try and type this out, I’m stuck in an endless loop of Gmail, Twitter, and Reddit. As soon as I get bored of something, I fireup either the webpage or app (depending on how close I am to my computer) and browse until I get bored again. And then I move onto the next one, and the next one. As I try and write this, I’m already thinking of finding the next big post to up-vote, or the next message to read and reply to. I’m stuck in this endless feedback loop of constantly being connected, and there’s a serious problem with that.

When I was younger, I could read a book for hours on end. I have a distinct memory of being sick when the fifth Harry Potter book was released, and finishing that in two days. Granted, the typeface was massive, but it still felt good; like I had accomplished something. I was hooked. Now that I’m older, reading has been replaced, not entirely, but replaced nonetheless with movies and podcasts. I have a love/hate relationship with Netflix and Pocket Casts.

That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading entirely. Oh no. At the start of 2014, Pocket, formerly read-it-later, a service in which you save articles offline to read later, sent me my stats for 2013. I honestly didn’t even know they were keeping track of such a thing, but they were.

Now, at first glance, even I was impressed, but I started to look at it again and realized that if I were to have taken on the 52 books in a year challenge in 2013, purely using my Pocket stats, I would’ve fallen short by 19 books. That’s a substantial number.

Since January, I’ve bought 14 books, of which I’m only partly through the second. They’re sitting on my shelf, collecting dust, as I browse the internet searching for the next rush of adrenaline.

So what’s the problem? The only obvious answer that I can think of is that we as a culture have lost some of our ability to stay focused. I know I have. We’re constantly on the search for the next viral hit to share with our friends, in order to say, “yes, I am in the loop.” We live in a culture that perpetuates sharing experiences with one another, whether it’s face-to-face or through a screen, and we live our lives with the distinct fear of missing out on that.

And how can we fix this pervasive issue? By achieving a sense of balance. Find something to read for 30 minutes a day. It doesn’t have to be anything major like a literary opera, but something simple like the newspaper. We aren’t going to stop using these apps that give us a sense of immense satisfaction-they’re fun, and they connect us to the world around us-but we need to find a sense of balance.

Reading involves more than just sitting down and scanning your eyes across groups of words. It requires you to focus, to think about what the author meant, and it uses your imagination to take you to wonderous places that no movie or radio program could ever hope to. Reading is an incredibly cathartic experience. It’s scary, but having time to yourself where you can disconnect, is important. It does wonders.

So, what am I going to do?

I’m going to read.

Talking To Strangers

I met a very interesting lady while I was at work today.

Being a part-time employee in a retail environment, it’s sometimes hard not to feel the soul-crushing weight of your university degree bearing down on you while you toil away earning just over minimum wage. The thing with that is that there is always a silver lining. Things can always be worse, but just as easily, they can also be better.

The great thing, and I suppose the only satisfaction that I get from this part-time retail job of mine is that I get to meet some really interesting people. Take, for instance, this lady that I met today. I was cashing her out, and asked if she required a gift receipt. She politely told me no, saying that the were going with her to South Africa. That statement alone was enough to spark what ended up being a 30 minute conversation between us. I use conversation lightly, as it was mostly her talking and I listening.

She told me that she still had some family in South Africa, but that she was of European origin. When she was maybe 12 years old, having been born on the East German side of the Iron Curtain, her family decided that they needed to escape. Fleeing in the middle of the night with only a few possessions, they managed to make it all the way to South Africa; the farthest that they could get from where they were running from. Having finished both her secondary and post-secondary education in South Africa, she decided that she wanted to travel, and go back to Europe.

Wandering around Berlin, after the Wall was destroyed, she realized that she loved the north. The cold agreed with her, and she found an intrinsic beauty in it. She spent the majority of her twenties travelling, ending up in Edinburgh, before she decided that in order to really understand and know the north, she needed to come to Canada. She first landed in Montreal (with two tiny suitcases), then Ottawa, and finally, Toronto. It was a year later that she met a person who would later become her life-long partner, and travel buddy.

Before they got married, she made him promise that they would travel across Canada’s northern Territories, and they did just that. They spent close to half a decade travelling up there, taking it all in, before coming back, and settling down.

Being a recent university graduate who’s finding it increasingly hard to find any real opportunities, the idea of travelling has become more and more appealing to me. It wasn’t really until I heard her story that it sunk in; there really is a whole world out there just waiting to be discovered by my relatively fresh pair of eyes. I’ve been across most of Western Europe, South Asia and Eastern Canada, but never by myself. I’ve never really been on an adventure like that, and while the early portion of hers was forced upon her, it helped to foster a love of travel and a love of the north.

I think that what can be taken from her story is that it never hurts to talk to people you may not know. You can only gain something from their experience, or even, inexperience. I cannot describe how it felt to stand there and listen to her talk; it was simply amazing. It didn’t hurt that she made the soul-crushing experience of working in retail feel like nothing, and that I, at the ripe old age of 22, can do anything I set my mind to.

I just wish that I had thought to get her name. Hindsight is 20/20, after all.

100 Days Until I End A 6 Year Relationship (With My Phone Carrier)

Today, after I got home from my shift at work, I noticed a small package from TELUS, my current phone service provider. Normally, it’s just my monthly phone bill in the mail, or what they call TELUS Perks; small gifts such as movie passes or a charitable donation in your name. Today, however, it was something different.

Seeing this made me really excited.

 

I’ve been with TELUS for nearly 6 years now. It’s my longest relationship with anything ever. My first phone was a Motorola RAZR V3C, and my second, and current phone, is my HTC Desire. Yes, the original Desire, the one that shipped with Android 2.1 Eclair and never officially received any Android 2.3 update. But that’s besides the point. Well, not really, because since I was with TELUS, and my particular plan was that I’d have a credit spending limit of $200 (meaning I wouldn’t have to pay my phone bills until I hit that dollar amount), I couldn’t upgrade without jumping through a number of insane hoops. First, I’d have to pay off the remaining balance of my device, which is $10/month for however many months I had left. Then, I’d have to pay my $200 to get off that credit spending limit program I was on, and then to top it all off, a $275 cancellation fee. So it could eventually come close to $700 before I could even do anything else.

In case you can’t read the text in that image, the booklet basically says that I am currently eligible for a phone upgrade and they’ll make it easy for me to do so by:

  1. Waiving my device balance (the $10/month and the $200 credit limit program would be gone)
  2. Offering special discounts on select phones so I can save more
  3. Giving me access to the hottest phone at the best in-market prices

Naturally, this got me pretty excited, seeing as despite the fact that my 3-year old phone with 512 MB RAM/ROM is running Android 4.2.2 fairly well, I desperately need a new phone as a daily driver. I flipped the page over and saw the phone that they were offering me:

Seeing the three phones that they were offering me immediately bummed me out.

The Samsung Galaxy Ace Q, The BlackBerry Curve 9320, or the Nokia Lumia 620, all phone, maybe with the exception of the Lumia 620 (which is a Windows Phone 8 device, thus, has no app ecosystem), that are lower spec’d than my current device. Why on earth would I want to pay $25 to buy a phone that is arguable far worse than what I am currently working with?

But, to make sure that I wasn’t being stupid and missing anything in this sparsely detailed booklet, I called TELUS customer support, and they clarified that yes, those were the only three phones I could “upgrade” to at the $25 price point. If I wanted, say the Nexus 4, I’d pay $30, or if I wanted the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, I’d pay approximately $180, the current subsidized cost of those devices. The real kicker was that I’d be locked into another 2 year contract, with a ridiculous monthly rate plan of a base $55/month with unlimited calling and texting and 250 MB of data. For another $8 per service, I could tack on Caller ID, Voice Mail, Call Waiting and Conference Calling. The only one I’d require are the first two, a $16 additional charge.

Then, because 250 MB of data is nothing, for another $30/month, I could tack on another, wait for it, another whole 750 MB of data. $30 for 750 MB?! TELUS, you have to be kidding me. Again, this is if I went with the cheapest phone out of the best that they can offer me.

That brings the total charges per month on a new two year contract to around $100/month, more than my current $80/month with unlimited texting, 300 minutes of calling, Call Waiting, Conference Calling, Voice Mail, Caller ID, and 1 GB of data. So with spending more, I’d be getting less than I currently have with my now grandfathered rate plan.

I decided to shop around a bit more, and looked at Rogers, the next best bet. The plans are relatively the same, but for another $150/month, you can bump you 250 MB of data to 20 GB. 20 GB for $150? The numbers seemed skewed to me, and they are. For home internet plans, you can roughly get 1 GB of data for $1, if you’re at the 80 GB data cap with Rogers or Bell.

It gets even better.

I then wanted to know why they charge so much per text message, $0.20/text. The customer services client told me it’s because of the infrastructure charges and the cost to actually send such a large file over the airwaves. That, is not true. The most a text message will ever come to in size is 160 kb. Even for your 5-6 pagers, they get split up, which is why the person who receives them receives 5-6 texts from you, even if it doesn’t look like that on your end. So that cost per text argument is frankly total bull.

To end the phone call with the customer services client, a woefully ignorant lady who kept having to refer to her manager on duty for basic questions such as, “how much longer do I have until my contract is over?” To answer that question, it is 100 days, as of writing this.

So, this was in essence, a horribly long-winded way of basically saying that the big three Canadian telecommunications companies are no longer economically viable for someone like me, a recent university graduate in their early 20s. It’s no wonder why so many people my age really want Verizon, the largest American telecommunications and phone service provider, to come and enter the Canadian market. It’s no wonder why almost everyone that I talk to is so bitter with Rogers, Bell, and TELUS, as well as their respective subsidiary companies, Koodo, Virgin, and Fido. It’s no wonder why so many more people, including me, want to jump ship to companies like WIND Mobile as soon as they are able to, and it’s no wonder why you will not be getting my money ever again.

We, as the consumer, want, and demand better choice that’s actually affordable. Paying over $100 a month for a phone service is ridiculous, and needs to stop. The big three have had their chance, in fact, many, chances, to change their practices and give the consumers what we’ve all been clamouring for since we all clued into what was going on.

The good news is that I only have 100 days left in my six year long, monetarily abusive relationship, with TELUS. 100 very long days until I can finally begin voting with my wallet.

Until then, I only have one last thing to say, and that is a big screw you to TELUS.

I wrote a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star regarding this issue. You can read it here.

Cigars

I’ve always wondered why things sound better when smoking a cigar, or why we get a sudden rush of our seemingly best ideas late at night, and I think I’ve finally found the answer: it’s when we are at our most relaxed that our mind is free to wander and think outside the proverbial box.

Think about it this way; cigars take time to smoke, unlike smoking a cigarette, which is rushed and filled with anxiety to get that next fix of nicotine. With cigars, you’re able to relax, sit back and think, and it’s only when you have that time to let your mind wander freely that you are open to new ideas and concepts that were once foreign and strange to us. For me, personally, I find that the same premise can be applied to mundane tasks, because those almost always require zero brain-power; our bodies are on auto-pilot and we’re able to go off into our own distraction free world where any random thought can be explored fully.

When it comes down to it, it is the imagination’s ability to wander that births good ideas, and it us up to us to simply embrace this.

Something Left To Give

If there’s one thing that I’ve realized about wanting to become a writer is that my heart and my mind has become divided between my many selves.

When I first started writing nearly four years ago, I wanted to stand apart from the rest of the aspiring writers. I aimed to add bits and pieces of my own life, experiences, and thought processes into the works that I had created in order to make the settings seem all that more believable and the characters people that I, and whoever found and read my pieces, could relate to in some small way. However, over the years, the characters that I have fleshed out via words have become as much a part of my personal being as much as I have become a part of their imagined beings.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that everything is connected in some small way, and if you can’t get anything out of whatever it is that you’re doing, then no one else will ever be able to.

The Fear Of Being Alone

What I’ve always wondered is why people are so damn terrified of telling the person that they care for, that they care for them. Romantic comedies and perpetuated this fad wherein person A likes/loves person B, yet cannot tell person B for whatever reason. Person A then goes around telling everyone else this new addition to her life, all the while, not telling person B that he/she likes/love him/her. It makes no sense to me.

I suppose it has to do with the fear of rejection, mixed with the want to feel validated. For instance, let’s say I like a certain musical artist, and you don’t. Nine times out of ten, I will most likely say, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU YOU’RE INSANE THEY’RE THE BEST BAND EVER!” I noticed this about myself, and others, when a good friend of mine told me that he did not like bacon, while another said that he did not enjoy sushi. We seek that sense of validation from others so that we don’t feel alone in our life choices, so that we can justify our actions as other people are partaking in the same activities and decision make processes.

The fear of rejection, however, is an entirely different story, which goes back to my first point; people are finding it increasingly harder and harder to tell the people that they want to tell what it is that they are exactly feeling. I’m guessing it’s because in doing so, you’re opening yourself up to that other person; you become incredibly vulnerable. And that’s where movies tend to fail us. They are an incredible story telling medium, but they don’t prepare us for the flipside of these situations. In most romantic comedies, person A and person B are together in the very end. However, that doesn’t necessarily always happen. Two people may not feel the same way towards each other at the same time, so what happens when one person opens up and the other one cannot reciprocate? How are we meant to deal with that? All I’ve seen is a slippery slope of awkward conversations because in the back of their minds, they’re both trying not to let what they say affect the other person, and after sometime, the strangers turned friends and almost lovers, are strangers once again.

And all of this, the fear of rejection and the need to feel validated, stems entirely from the absolute fear of being alone. We’re all so wrapped up in each other’s lives that we don’t take a minute to stop and think about what it is that we’re doing in our own lives. We don’t like being alone with our thoughts, and we drown them out with alcohol, weed, music, or whatever, because we’re so terrified of being honest with ourselves. We’d rather lie to others and say that we’re alright, when we’re not, even if we don’t know why. We don’t like being alone, and we don’t necessarily know how to be alone anymore either.

And that’s what terrifies me; distracting myself from myself.

The "I"deaology of Writing

As someone who wants to write, I recently began asking myself the question of why it is that we, in general, write. In the simplest of terms, I think that writing serves as an extension ourselves, or more specifically, of our thoughts and our oral language, since it’s a practice of the everyday. In writing, we are attempting to take the thoughts we often turn into inarticulate speech and attempting to give them a sense of coherence.

Writing, much like oratory, is essentially the art of storytelling, which attempts to preserve, or document, some sort of “truth.” This can apply equally to fiction and nonfiction, both of which ask questions such as, “Who shot first, Han or Greedo?” The sharing of these truths communicates our own interpretations of something that is already established.

However, the oral is prone to error and wide interpretation, allowing for a distinct dichotomy between what may have actually happened and what was recorded. The benefit of the oral is in that those oratory stories can convey emotion through emphasis, and body language; however, the context can change depending on the space in which it was first heard, and the space in which it was retold. Oral retellings, in essence, are always mythic in nature.

Writing, on the other hand, is often seen as more rational: We are allowed to take our time to figure out the exact sentence structure, removing all room for error. It is temporal, in that it allows us to record a specific event and time, with the context of the delivery entirely removed. What differentiates writing from the oral is that writing is not done to seek truth in the general sense of the term, but rather as a very personal act of self-discovery. Many of the topics that we write about or find interesting often contain bits and pieces of ourselves.

Through this, writing is in effect a discourse of power. In psychoanalytic terms, we repeat the act of writing in order to get it right. So writing is inherently a violent act, since by attempting self-discovery, we initiate a process of a self-revisionist history. How many times have we looked back at the works that we have written, or things we have done, and thought to ourselves, “Man, I was really young,” or, “Man, I was really dumb.” The benefit of this violence is that, by externalizing ourselves, we are taking something that is intrinsically “us,” and letting others challenge and provoke our ideas about the topic at hand — and therefore, about ourselves. A completely objective third party has no social requirement to lie and be nice to us; they are allowed the position of being 100 percent honest. Writing, therefore, is industrious; we are often building something from nothing, developing and approaching a future notion of what we think we ought to be.

So why is it that I write, and want to continue to write? It’s because writing serves as a medium to connect two people who have never met over ideas they find interesting; it allows for a sense of commonality between two complete strangers; it serves as a different means of understanding ourselves, and, through the lens of ourselves, the world.

Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason

I have recently discovered that many of my friends align themselves with the ideas that 1. the movement and trajectory of the stars and planets somehow governs their lives and that 2. everything seemingly happens for a reason. These ideas of theirs tend to come up in varying contexts, but the one that I most frequently hear is in relation to a failed relationship, or in regards to some terrible event that they are currently experiencing and working through. Time and time again, I find myself disagreeing, and having to explain why everything does not happen for a reason.

Saying that everything happens for a reason is an extremely comforting idea; people know that bad things will happen in their world, but they do not know how to understand and come to terms with that idea. That’s because it’s troubling, and it should be. It’s a form of escape; It’s easy, light pseudo-spirituality that allows people the feeling that they’re off the hook. This sentiment is largely a moronic cop out, in that it is meaningless, and a way to avoid responsibility and avoid facing certain facts. We might not necessarily ascribe this to something religious in nature, however, we are still perfectly okay to write everything off as being orchestrated by unseen forces for our own personal, explicit, benefit. The assumption that everything happens for a reason lies under the faulty world-view of a predetermined future in which you have very little control of events that happen around you or that take place in your life. In effect, that statement serves as a type of crutch, where we are allowed to stick our heads into the sand and avoid facing the sometimes harsh reality. It removes all sense of agency, in that by blithely proclaiming that anything and everything in your life happens for some cosmic reason does not make you look sage and self-aware; it makes you seem rather stupid and overly self-indulgent. It makes you look unwilling to seek out or even acknowledge your own culpability in your actions and words.

However, that sense of responsibility, to me, is a much more comforting thought as it allows me to have a greater sense of control over my own life, and my own personal being. It gives me that sense of agency, wherein I am able to decide and make my own choices. The lack of being able to own up to something just allows you to follow the crowd, not really allowing room to think for yourself, and not having that time or space to think can be incredibly dangerous. Anything less than owning up to everything in your life is a direct avoidance of facing the tasks that lay ahead, or working towards improving yourself; it’s changing your mindset to fit the bad state of things to somehow rationalize it and make it better in their heads. And that is a huge problem, because it does not actually address anything; it’s all in their heads.

Of course, there will be certain things in your life that are beyond your control, and sometimes knowing what or why it happened will not give you control over other future events. But, if something does happen, it is your responsibility to find out why. At worst, you’ll be better informed, and at best, you’ll know how to potentially avoid that situation in the future. If we’re lucky, we all have about 100 years on this planet. We should not allow ourselves to become so complacent and brush things off with an easy excuse that everything happens for a reason; they don’t. Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t. We need to learn from our mistakes, and take solace in the fact that in some small way, we will all live a small mark in the world that we live in.