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At 3:10 PM, on February 2nd, 2001, I was in the food court of the Eaton’s Centre in Toronto, Ontario, waiting for a battery to charge… I have no idea where I was exactly one year ago at that point – 3:10 PM on February 2nd, 2000 – but I doubt that I could have forseen my location and activity in a year’s time, and I seriously doubt that I paid any thought to it at all… I find it interesting to think that five years from now I may be in a drunken brawl at a bar, or driving through Oregon, or quite simply sleeping after a long day of work. This universe of constant change, of countless opportunities, of life-affirming decisions astounds me. You can’t get any more profound than everyday life.
– Journal entry, February 2nd, 2001
I recently returned to Vancouver after a long trip back to Ontario to visit friends and family for the holidays. I elected not to post much of anything or comment on a lot of what I experienced; I felt as though everything I had to say about the nature of trips back east was said in a series of entries I posted on Tumblr back in May. Quite frankly, I wanted to sit back and enjoy things and not worry too much about putting things into perspective. But I suppose perspective is unavoidable.
I thought a lot about time on the trip, and stories, and the way I’ve turned my old friends into these images of people, these entities who are always “over there” now. I’m sitting in my apartment and thinking about how far away these people are, and yet aren’t; three days by bus, four or five hours by plane. That isn’t much, is it? Four days back, and I’m already thinking about jumping back on a bus. And I will, soon. I’m planning a trip to Seattle for the first week of February. But more on that in a bit.
Time – it plays tricks on us. After days, weeks of not thinking about it, we get out of bed and something inside us, triggered by a glimpse in the mirror or a pulled muscle, reminds us that time is passing relentlessly. And so few of us seem all that desperate to counteract it. Sure, people take measures to prevent themselves from aging physically. We exercise and try to eat right. We spend a fair amount of the time we have trying to add more time. Innately, we know it goes fast. But socially, I wonder how much we let time dictate our actions, our emotions.
The passage of time makes me do crazy things. I’ve crossed this country six times on a bus, spent almost three weeks of my life on the TransCanada highway. But I wanted this – I wanted to move to Vancouver. I wanted to try it. Staying in one place was making me too aware of time. School was over. I had my own place. Week after week, patterns began developing. A settling down. I was still too antsy. I needed to go. I needed to make more diverse use of the time that I have, out of fear that I wasn’t living life to the fullest. I wanted a new act to start, new plot elements to reveal themselves, in order to discover more about who I was and what I was capable of.
Which brings me to stories. I’m notorious for believing fundamentally that life has a narrative arc, and that that narrative arc is built by the decisions we make. We can make a story out of our lives if we try hard enough to formulate it. I get nostalgic. I try to turn that nostalgia into something that the future willingly accepts. There is a reason I felt certain things, and they will inevitably come back around, regardless of how I change. Think of all that foreshadowing. It has to lead somewhere, otherwise the plot will be lost.
That’s all nuts, of course. I had a couple of conversations and read a couple of books over the course of the trip that dealt with these ideas. One was Julian Barnes’ “The Sense of an Ending,” in which an old man finds himself finally forced to come to terms with events that transpired in his early 20s. Alarming, his ability to throw himself headlong once again into feelings that he must have thought had long passed. And Douglas Coupland’s “Player One: What is to Become of Us,” in which he says the following:
In the New Normal, we need to strip ourselves of notions of individual importance. Something new is arising that has neither interest in nor pity for souls trapped in twentieth-century solipsism. Non-linear stories? Multiple endings? No loading times? It’s called life on earth. Life need not be a story, but it does need to be an adventure.
Our stories are bullshit, essentially. Or not bullshit – they continue to be stories, but not any kind of story we’re willing to accept based on what we’re fed by popular culture. There is no first, second, third act; there are only new developments and (ideally) mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. We meet new people, fall in and out of love, spend time with time. We grow old. We regret and rejoice. We feel a burning desire to change things. I have an unfortunate tendency to return to the scenes of crimes, only to find them overgrown and outdated.
I do this because I turn the people in my life into characters. Maybe I haven’t ever really gotten to know anyone, or not in the sense that I can fully understand the person they turn into. Or maybe I’m not meant to know how they turn out; maybe some people are better left to their own devices after a while. You meet, you interact, something turns a corner, and what you’re able to offer each other ceases to be valuable. And that should be that. Life goes on. The story doesn’t call for their return. Instead, it calls for you to explore new endings. It calls for you to adventure. To get on with life.
On February 2nd I’ll finally be heading down to Seattle. I’ve wanted to go there for 20 years. More nostalgia. I’ll also be travelling to Portland, riding across Oregon almost 11 years to the day I wrote that journal entry. None of this was intentional; my mention of Oregon at the time was random, and my scheduling of the trip just happened to coincide with the bus ticket I purchased. It’s just a funny little connection to be made. If we ignore coincidence, we deprive our lives of a dimension of beauty, Milan Kundera wrote. And anyway, it makes a decent story.
I still look for these sorts of things, apparently. Though it happens rarely, especially given how much I seem to encourage it, I still completely understand when elements of my past come back to revisit me. I invite full-circleness into my life at every turn. Coincidence propels things, garnishing moments with more significance than they’re probably worth. Like that moment when you sit down with a friend you’ve known for years, and you realize there’s an entire catalogue of intimate conversations that you’ve never opened yourselves up to. So you do, and you find out that your early memories are similar, that your upbringings overlap, that you come from the same place. And though you’ve known this person for a while, they become someone entirely new. And despite all the proof to the contrary, a new act begins.
Tip No. 5: When you think a girl looks pretty, say it.
“But don’t reference the thing that might reveal you are aware of the backstage process: e.g., say, ‘You look gorgeous tonight,’ not ‘I like how you did your makeup tonight.’ Also, a compliment means less if you compliment the thing and not the way the girl is carrying it off. So say, ‘You look so sexy in those boots,’ rather than ‘Those boots are really cool.’ I didn’t make the boots! I don’t care if you like the boots’ design! We are magic to you: you have no idea how we got to look as good as we do.”
I have a lot of female friends, and when at all possible, I try my best to remind them how terrific they are. I don’t get to see much of them these days, as most of them live back in Ontario, so I end up getting a tad overwhelmed by their fabulousness in person. I try not to be too forward or creepy about it; they’re my friends, after all, and I’m not telling them that I find them attractive because I have aims on them physically. “You look so sexy in those boots,” for example, is not a sentence I have much cause to utter in good company. But I have no trouble letting them know how great they look.
Kaling’s also talking about dating, and flirting in general, and I haven’t been doing much of either lately. That’s not to say I don’t want to, and that I haven’t been thinking about being a bit more adventurous with flirtation. The mere fact that I’m not ashamed to tell a girl she’s pretty makes me a decent flatterer. I think most guys either undercompensate and clam up, too fearful to say anything because they don’t think they’ll say the right thing, or overcompensate and come off as total sleazes, even if their intentions are noble.
Anyway, I’d like to think I’ve become more adept at letting a woman know that I find her attractive without being too cheesy about it. There’s something endlessly classy about a guy who seems to let his macho guard down for a second because he’s overtaken by a woman’s beauty. Honesty is key, seconded only by brevity. And as Kaling says, being too specific can drain the sentiment from the moment completely. Words of appreciation travel far, especially if you’ve been in a relationship for a while. It’s important not to let things go unsaid.
That about wraps up the Awesome Guy Challenge. After over a month of travelling, I’m heading back to Vancouver on Saturday, where I’ll be doing more dishes, letting more people onto elevators, and smelling more like James Franco than I ever have before. Here’s to an awesome new year.
Tip No. 6: Avoid asking if someone needs help in a kitchen or at a party, just start helping.
“Same goes with dishes. (Actually, if you don’t want to help, you should ask them if they need help. No self-respecting host or hostess will say yes to that question.)”
Some people find the kitchen an inspiring environment in which a particular artistry is practised and refined; I typically look at it as the room where I open cabinets and flick buttons to make food ready for my mouth. When it comes to helping out, I’m a chronic asker, mostly because I often have no idea how to be of service. You’re making a soufflé? Cool. I’ll stand here and… be quiet? I don’t really know what else goes into the making of a soufflé.
My friend Emily made us dinner tonight. I asked her if she needed a hand. I couldn’t help it. She politely refused, and I promptly turned my attention toward the dishes. Dishes are an area I’m comfortable with. Sponge in hand, I leapt into action and didn’t stop scrubbing until everything in the general vicinity of the counter was spic and span.
This is what Emily prepared, by the way – butternut squash galette, complemented with brussel sprouts and mustard butter. Yum:
I’ve been travelling a fair bit lately, and I’ve been fortunate to eat meals prepared by some great friends who have also provided me with a space to crash. Helping them out in return is the least I can do. It’s more than that, though. I’m grateful for the chance to spend that extra bit of time with them. I don’t get a mess of opportunities to prepare meals with others these days, or to put myself to use beyond my own day-to-day needs. It’s a pleasure to help, but it’s an even greater pleasure to feel relied on, even a little bit.
According to Emily, helping out with the dishes made me about 45% more awesome, so mission accomplished. One more tip to go.
Tip No. 4: Wait until all the women have gotten on or off an elevator before you get on or off.
“Look, I’m not some chivalry nut or anything, but this small act of politeness is very visual and memorable.”
I don’t take very many elevators. Most of my destinations seem to be no more than a couple of floors off ground level, so I always take the stairs. There have been a couple of occasions recently where I’ve had to catch myself up in order to let women onto elevators ahead of me. (I almost missed one in the effort, which would have left my friend who had already entered high and dry and a tad confused.)
Chivalry is probably tougher for guys these days – we should know that women are equally capable, but that once in a while they appreciate small favours as a show of decency. There’s a difference between being there to hold a door and lunging for it like you’re possessed. I’m sure Queen Elizabeth I thanked Sir Walter Raleigh for laying down his coat and didn’t shoot her entourage a glance that communicated he was being kind of a creeper about it. Or maybe she went on full bore à la Judi Dench in “Shakespeare in Love.” Sometimes a guy can get his head scrambled under propriety.
I’m a bit off when it comes to opening doors for women, usually because I always let women take the lead while we’re walking in general. But I’m good with grabbing a door and holding it once it’s open. I’m not sure if that counts. Pulling out chairs is tough, too, because it’s hard to nail the proper dramatic flair of it. Too much and it comes off as achingly lame, too little and it seems rude and mechanical. I usually take the chair when it’s a chair/booth situation anyway, since booths are more comfortable. Though it’s good idea to ask which they prefer.
Offering my seat to women on buses has always been dodgy because I’ve run the gamut of responses. Some are appreciative, some are puzzled, some refuse to the point of near hostility. I’ve figured out a system, though: don’t offer. Just stand. If you’re young and able-bodied, make sure every seat on that bus is taken by people who could use the load off instead of you. Sometimes chivalry is best kept to yourself.
Tip No. 11: Bring wine or chocolate to everything.
“People love when guys do that. Not just because of the gift, but because it is endearing to imagine you standing in line at Trader Joe’s before the party.”
Trader Joe’s is the specialty grocery store equivalent to J.Crew in Canada: non-existent. I brought both wine and chocolate to the New Year’s party I attended last night. One response: “Who brought the chocolate? They’re my new friend.” Thanks Mindy.
I’m generally pretty good at showing up to parties with food. My go-to snack has always been Party Mix. Why bring one kind of chips when you can bring four? But perhaps it isn’t as endearing to picture a guy in line at the Quickie.
I still typically attend the types of parties where people drink what they’ve brought with them, and last night was no different. But I’ve begun hosting film nights at my apartment, and the people who come out are terrific with bringing communal food and drinks. We’re planning a potluck this month to complement a screening of “My Dinner with Andre.”
Happy New Year!
Tip No. 12: Get a little jealous now and again, even if you’re not strictly a jealous guy.
“Too much, and it’s frightening, but a possessive hand on her back at a party when your girlfriend looks super hot is awesome.”
Jealousy is something I’ve worked hard to temper over the years, mostly due to dating a variety of women who don’t tolerate it in any form. And they shouldn’t, after all, because I don’t own any of the women I date. I’ve never been an overly possessive guy, either. If you’re experiencing jealousy, it may speak more to trust issues than to an effort to be awesome. Truthfully, whenever I see a guy put his hand on his girlfriend’s back at a party, it reeks to me of insecurity.
My last girlfriend and I were often told that we didn’t act “couple-y” in social situations, and we were kind of proud of it. No kisses, embraces, or other physical displays of affection shared while hanging out with groups of people in living rooms or restaurants. We’d often never even sit together on the same sofa. It wasn’t that we weren’t romantic, just that we were comfortable enough to be apart until romance was called for. If I ever became jealous, it would typically come out in snide little comments later on. But she was a good assuager. I knew I could trust her.
The hand-on-the-back move isn’t one I typically make in relationships anymore. It’s important to find that balance between showing appreciation for your girlfriend’s hotness and respecting your girlfriend enough to know that she can take care of herself. Because if she’s any girlfriend of mine, she knows how to take care of herself. That said, if she needs me, I try to let her know I’m there. I never hesitate to step up when I know that the girl I’m with needs a hand. But usually it has nothing to do with her back. Usually it has more to do with getting between her and the mongrel who’s trying to crowd her at the bar.
I get what Kaling’s talking about. We like to know that the people we care about will get their feathers ruffled over the thought of losing us somehow. And sometimes jealousy can seem like the only alternative to taking the other person for granted. Showing appreciation is a must, but there’s a lot to be said for keeping it positive and frequent, rather than waiting until you’re feeling threatened. A bit more on that in an upcoming tip.