Reel Big Fish. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Operation Ivy. Sublime. Mustard Plug. Goldfinger Fishbone. If those band names evoke an aura of nostalgia, then you're in my camp - I used to love third-wave ska, what with their happy horns and quirky lyrics and dance-heavy riffs.
I've always wondered if there'd be a documentary chronicling this blip in the music radar, and thankfully two nights ago I saw a new film doing just that. Pick It Up! - Ska in the 90s debuted in Toronto at Gerrard Grand Theatre (thanks for alerting me, Brahm!) and I was smiling the whole time. Something about ska always does that to me.
The film did a fantastic job in offering a history lesson on the first and second waves of ska, most notably how two-tone ska (think The Specials, Skatalites) gave way to a more poppy and giddier form of "fast reggae", as ska has often been labelled. t was illuminating to hear bands like Reel Big Fish and Mustard Plug talk openly about how the public first welcomed the quick rise of ska music, but then got over the trend just as speedily, seeing ska "as cheesy and immature," as Save Ferris singer Monique Powell said in the film.
Viewers will also learn the origin stories of checkerboard shirts, horn sections, skankin dancing, violent mosh pits and ska tunes making it into films such as Clueless. More importantly, the musicianship is discussed in the middle of the film, and that section not only dissects writing certain songs but also honing the on-stage personas for folks like The Aquabats!
I was actually oblivious to the two tipping points for ska in the 90s: No Doubt making it big, and Rancid's Time Bomb going viral on MTV/Muchmusic, legitimizing a punk-rock-jazz trend that began in Orange County, CA, and spread across the US. I guess I always saw Rancid as more punk than ska, but it turned out Time Bomb opened the door to ska in a way that buoyed other bands.
The doc covered a lot of ground, but only in one area I felt it lacking: When it came time to introduce how Sublime influenced the music industry, the filmmakers only got Miguel (a producer) and Brad's wife to speak on camera, as opposed to snagging two of the surviving members of the band, Bud and Eric. Sublime's impact can't be under-stated, so why not interview two of the guys deep in the heart of third-wave ska movement?
There's a reason I went to a Reel Big Fish concert four years ago, long after I amassed RBG and Goldfinger cassettes: unfettered joy and sweaty fun are the key ingredients in a great ska show, and RBG has never failed to entertain me. Maybe it's the blast of the three horns, something I din't see often in a lot of concerts. Maybe it's the lyrics taking me back to the 90s. But it's probably the skankin I break into when all those elements blend smoothly into a heady celebration I don't want to see end anytime soon.
The show you need to be watching right now is Fleabag. Both seasons. On Amazon Prime, binge it, space it out, whatever you need to do, but make sure this gem of a TV series is slotted in your queue.
Why? The writing. It’s snappy and realistic and hilarious and charming and engaging and I can go on but I don’t want to overload you with synonyms of “fantastic.”
Because that’s what Fleabag is, a nutshell. Fan-fucking-tastic, from the Season 1 pilot to 2018’s season 2 finale, which some have been saying could be the series finale.
From writer/actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who you might know as the brains behind serial-killer dramedy Killing Eve, Fleabag follows a British café owner through her 30-something London lifestyle, complete with tense relationships with a sister and dad, unfulfilling romantic partners, misogynistic weirdos and guilt. Lots of that.
As much as I applaud the casting and overall acting talent on screen (hat-tip to Olivia Colman for being brilliant as always), PB’s scripts elevate this show beyond most of the bland fare clogging our screens these days. The conversations between characters feel natural, never forced, lulling you into Fleabag’s world as soon as you hit that 10 minute mark in episode 1.
Then there are the twists and rug burns the characters endure, more so in season 2 than 1, and the stories shatter your expectations of how this or that plot thread will unravel. It’s as if Waller-Bridge has been so damn bored by television’s cliché approaches to relationships, she wanted to flip some tables and make something unlike anything done before.
One such tool is giving the main character, played by Waller-Bridge, the ability to break the fourth wall and address the audience in these snarky asides that often mirror what you’re thinking about the scene as well. It’s the kind of device that could backfire if the direct-to-camera commentary falls flat; but the writing’s quality never wavers and always stays consistently strong, even though more expositional scenes.
Lately, I’ve been tracking who writes my favourite shows, such as Atlanta, Barry, Crashing, Preacher (wow, I really like shows with one-word titles). I never used to do that, and for some reason preferred to note which actors guest-starred in a random scene. Now, thanks to learning more about the TV writing process through a few words, I try to look deeper into the writing of a favourite show – it can crackle off the screen or fizzle quick, no matter which A-list actors try to make the best of the D-minus lines.
And Fleabag, which deserves all the awards and all the love, is snagging As across the board, gold stars everywhere.
On the surface, I often come across as a smile-every happy-go-lucky guy with not a care in the world. My optimism often shines brightest, out of all the emotions squirrelled inside me, and so my friends and family never really see the negative self-flagellation I often endure. I'll admit, it's the kind of self-doubt that never paralyzes me from doing something worthwhile, but more often pinches me to say, "You sure you want to do this?"
I often find I've been plagued with five types of negative thoughts trying to worm their way into my psyche, poking holes in my ego and derailing the good vibes that initally had me soaring. Maybe you'll recognize a few of them:
You're an imposter. You're simply not good at what you do.
Otherwise known as imposter syndrome, such poison-tipped inner monologues have infected many artists over the years. It can be difficult to consistently stiff-arm that idea of being an imposter, especially when you're surrounded by such inspiring and talented writers and creatives everyday. But I've learned to recognize the encroaching whisper of this toxic thought, often reminding myself, "No, you are an original, and accept the thumbs-up feedback from friends and family as what it is: appreciation for your art."
Are you really better than you were yesterday?
For context to this sly needling, one of my mottos is "There is no need to compare yourself to another. The true greatness is being better than your previous self." So, in some way, I try to be a more accomplished David than the prior day, even if that relates to small things (Calling parents more, giving a dollar to the homeless man outside LCBO, helping a friend move etc). Some days, I slip back into bad habits, especially when it comes to food, something I have long struggled with as a charmingly chunky guy. I'm not too surprised that negativity finds it way into my brain; I needed to be better today and I wasn't. Thing is, I can be hard on myself and I've gradually learned to shelve this particular self-doubt and pick myself up to recognize that some days we aren't improving ourselves and that's OK. Tomorrow, it can happen.
Be a better friend.
I think this type of trash idea infects me when I feel like I've neglected a friend that's been trying to get in touch with me to hang out but the timing is off. I've always been someone with many friends in various circles - the poetry crew, the high school crew, the "Russians" - and it isn't easy to ensure every friend gets a decent share of my time. Does that sound egotistical? I'm not sure, but it rings a bit like, "Oh woe is me, too many friends!" But I think friendship fadeaways happen way too often when we get complacent about relationships that may have been always been solid, but start to fray at the edges as we age. And I'm determined to keep the friends that matter to me most, even when the "Be a better person" starts to echo in my head. Actually, especially when that happens.
You're not worthy of love.
As someone who's been single more often than being in relationship, this nagger of an insult appears as annoyingly as a neon pop-up ad. I've never been one to feel depressingly lonely as a single guy, thanks to so many great friends and fam feeding my social life. But I'm not immune to such doubts when those patches of singledom strike particularly hard. I've trained myself to block those pop-ups by complimenting myself on never compromising in relationships, and learning from each woman I've dated. Such discipline in steering your thought patterns to that space takes work, and won't happen in a fingersnap after that first or fourth breakup. But I've learned I can be a positive person most of the times thanks to my will to push away negative thoughts that encroach on my everyday.
June is packed with a slew of shows where I'l be bringing my poetry and solo show Jewnique. If you're in the GTA, Hamilton or Montreal, you can check me out at any of the gigs below:
June 8 - Tikkun Leil Shavuout at Miles Nadal JCC(750 Spadina Ave). 10pm. Room 201. Free.
At this all-night Jewish learning festival, I'll perform segments from my solo show Jewnique and then lead a workshop on how people can tell their Jewish story through poetry. No pens/paper required.
June 11 - Boneshaker Reading Series at Gladstone Library (1101 Bloor St. W). 7pm. Free.
This reading series will give me the opportunity to share more of my work from As Close to the Edge Without Going Over. Also reading with poet Paola Ferrante.
June 18 - Art Bar Reading Series at Free Times Cafe (320 College St.) 730pm. $5
At the venerable Art Bar series, I'll share more poems from As Close as well as one segment from Jewnique. If you're a poet, note there's always an open mic at the Art Bar.
June 23 - HYP! Slam Feature Poet in Hamilton. Spice Factory (121 Hughston St.). 7pm. $5
Feature poet-ing it up at Hamilton's dopest slam around. Will have copies of my book available for purchase.
June 30 - Ian Ferrier's Words and Music Show in Montreal. 8pm. Casa del Popolo (4873 boul. St-Laurent). PWYC.
It's my Montreal book launch and you're invited! I may also do a couple segments from Jewnique.
I've been thinking recently about going freelance full-time, a decision I made just over three years ago. What is one of the key differentiators from the ol' 9-to-5 is lacking a boss. To give myself the autonomy of determining how I spend my work day (or night) wasn't easy at first, because I was so used to a structure set out by bosses or colleagues, despite how much freedom I was awarded as a key figure in the startup.
So I had to get organized with my schedule. At first, I micro-managed my day, creating an Excel spreadsheet to lay out what I intended to accomplish every hour, even half-hour. For example, 9am to 10am would be working on my site, 10am to 11am would shift me to pitching ideas to BBC News, and then I gave myself a two-hour window of lunch and reading time, and then I was back for a half-hour of researching about an upcoming article, then slotted myself 30 minutes to conduct a short interview and then-
You get the picture. As comforting as it was to return to a schedule that held me to responsibilities that I truly wanted to do, I thought I was rolling down the right path. But that rigid structure soon got on my nerves because I realized a simple truth about a life without a boss: the beauty of spontaneity. There's something tasty about giving in to gut instinct, to crumbling the schedule and 3-point-shooting it into the trash can, and saying to yourself, "Let's see how the day goes. Let's just roll with it."
That decision evoked such a feeling of comfort in me, I got all warm and fuzzy just thinking about my upcoming day, which could be, well, filled with whatever I desire. Head to the Distillery District to work out of a cafe? Boom it's happening! Spend the morning swimming at a public pool, then read the new Wired on a patio before writing an 800-worder for a client? I'm down like James Brown in Motown!
A job without a boss isn't without its hazards, such as wallowing in the summer sun for so long you neglect that grant-writing that needs to get done, and so you'll likely finish it within an hour of the deadline. You also can get lonely, without someone to bounce ideas off, or even just riff with during lunch. But I enjoy being with myself (I can already hear you brainstorming a terrible masturbation joke) and I love that I relish my Dave time. That isn't easy for everyone.
Slipping into this lifestyle has its peaks and valleys, but I've definitely immersed myself so deep in the freelance life it's difficult to rearrange my behaviour for a day job. Been there, slayed that. Now, to be my own boss is the challenge I'm tackling as a freelance journalist, and I'm savouring a different kind of joy with wins I call my own.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of the debut of Jewnique, my first solo show. I felt compelled to write about Jewnique today because I've spent a lot of time recently reflecting on what this show meant to me, why I felt motivated to write it, and how appreciative I am for all the help I got to make this project a reality.
In early 2017, when I thought about the next creative challenge I wanted to overcome, I realized I had yet to delve into theatre, an artistic arena I've long been enamoured with due to my passion for plays I've seen in Toronto venues such as Tarragon Theatre, Soulpepper, CanStage and the Fringe. I felt a bubbling compulsion to try something I haven't done yet. Adding to that instigation was my need to finally write about my relationship with Judaism after years of writing poetry and prose about everything but that topic.
Maybe I didn't know exactly how to articulate my bond with Judaism, or what I felt was lacking from this relationship I had with my background and history. But I knew I felt inspired to write about Jewish trailblazers and what I saw in their lives once I took time to explore what bothered me about religion, what invigorating me about Jewish empowerment. I just knew that NOW was the right time to launch an investigation into my conflicted feelings on Jewish identity.
To write and produce and stage a solo show felt like an accomplishment that Younger Me might not have endeavoured to try doing, due to my steadfast belief that I was a journalist and poet and editor and event producer and that's it for now. But sometimes we get an itch that needs to be scratched, and I got bit by the theatre bug soon after I saw dozens of solo shows due to my coverage of the Fringe Festival for NOW Magazine. I thought, "Hey, I could do this!"
And on May 10, 2018, I did it. Finally! And my heart was warm with the glow of making a show out of a long-simmering idea and a determined work ethic. The 60 minutes on stage at the Al Green Theatre flew by. Part of me didn't want it to end (Wow, they're laughing at these jokes I added last minute!) and part of me wanted to rush off the stage to finally exhale and applaud myself for a job well done.
Jewnique has since gone on to tour across Canada, most notably Calgary and Ottawa in November. To bring this important show to more audiences, for the themes of guilt and Jewish identity to reach more people who may relate to what I go through...it fills me with nachas.
When you adventure on a project like this, as much as it's called a solo show it really isn't, if you reach out for help. I have to give shout-outs to the amazing creatives who helped elevate this project to a level of quality I wanted the show to reach: Dave Gordon, Evelyn Tauben and my brother Ben gave me some fantastic ideas of who to potentially profile in Jewnique; my buddy Jacob Frenkel cut an engaging video trailer that drew attention to the show's debut; Mike McGee of San Jose worked with me on fine-tuning both the writing and performative aspects of the show, and wow that week in California was so much fun too; my brother Ben, again, for assisting me in my segment about cantorial music, charming the audience with some surprise singing; Charlie Petch was one heckuva lighting and sound designer who helped ensure the show flowed smoothly; and Autumn Smith provided the critical insight into making my lump of clay into a gorgeous sculpture of a show, meeting with me regularly to polish both the writing and staging elements.
Jewnique was a team effort and I had a truly amazing team behind me to allay any anxieties I may have had venturing into unfamiliar territory.
I look forward to seeing where Jewnique can go in the coming years, while also experimenting with more theatre work to stretch my creative range. After all, shouldn't all artist keep challenging themselves, keep pushing, keep hungry?
I'm the last guy you'd expect to be obsessively sliding down YouTube clickholes with a singular focus in mind: see celebrities freak out as they gradually eat hotter and hotter wings. For years, I couldn't handle more than medium wings, and I thought jalapenos always ruined sandwiches and pastas. I got a British palate, as my British father often told me, meaning spicy food wasn't my jam. Sweet stuff, like jam, was my jam.
So what's this scoville scale-averse softie watching the YouTube show Hot Ones? Let me take you back to the first episode I saw two years ago, when host Sean Evans interviewed the comedians Jordan Peele and Keegan Michael Key about their new movie Keanu while also indulging in wings slathered in volcanically hot sauce. The series' main conceit is that with each wing, the sauce's tongue-burning power increases, and if the show's guests finish the wings with Evans they can plug whatever they came to the show to promote (even though they do all that during the 25-minute episode anyway).
When Key & Peele began to react to the hot sauce's fiery uppercut, I truly laughed out loud. Peele had these googly eyes as the hot sauce interrupted whatever media-trained answer usually comes from movie promo interviews. When they swerved into doing the valet sketch, their improv chops showed, nicely doused with a verve flair thanks to the scovilles igniting their nerve endings.
In one way, it was familiar territory for online forays I've seen before; there's a cottage industry of YouTubers eating dumb things, if only to elicit more views from this schadenfreude-friendly audience.
But there was something so human about the way these actors replied to Evans' deep-cut questions, which impressively veered from the stock answers most guests give on talk shows. Key and Peele were straight up pissed at Evans, even accusing his body of being transformed by nuclear fallout in order to endure the spicy wings.
That first Hot Ones had me clicking that big red button and then tracking back to see which other celebs couldn't stand the heat and literally got out of the kitchen. Each interviewee enduring this odd game show broke down their facade of being a cool suave A-lister and the expected consequence was just like how you and me would react: scrambling for milk, wiping sweat from brows, barely listening to any question lobbed our way and preferring to demand waterfalls of liquid to soothe our dying throat.
I realize why this approach to reality TV appeals to me: I like seeing celebrities be everyday folks, since that's who they truly are. Undoubtedly they are talented and widely adored, but they bleed red like anyone else and their dreams, fears and anxieties merely mirror our own. I'm tired of Hollywood interviews where guests just repeat the same thing they've always said. At least in Hot Ones their defenses are down painfully by the inhibition-lowering meal they're partaking.
And that's reality at its purest form, despite the series still being a show edited and directed with a specific goal in mind, skewing the IRL truth for something a bit more palatable. I get that, but I still can't shake my ear-to-ear smile at seeing Seth Rogen improv a half dozen cuss words over a wing that would've had me passed out and scrambling for a pint of ice cream.
While watching the Hot Ones guests that pound their chests with all the bravado they believe we expect of them, another telling nuance leaps out from this innocuous series: some stars just want their polish shining bright and high, no matter how quick they could be "brought down to earth" with a lip-numbing dab of hot sauce. Shaq was particularly brazen with his confidence that no wing would fell him, which only furthered my theory that Shaq never liked seeing any spotlight dim around his presence, something NBA fans saw during his feud with Kobe.
Hot Ones is a reminder that our heroes shouldn't be lionized for every marquee bearing their name in all-caps. After all, the more you put people on pedestals, it's easier for them to disappoint you and kick you in the face.
When I was growing up, I protested to my parents every time they told me we're all going to synagogue on Saturday mornings. Give me anything but the drudgery of droning prayers and unentertaining sermons, I told them! I'll do chores, I'll dust the whole house, wash everyone's laundry, I don't care.
But you know how we sometimes over-indulge ourselves with fatalistic nightmares of how boring an outing will really be, when reality tells us different? It was like that with me and imagining my Saturday morning stolen by this routine Jewish obligation pulling me from cartoons and Corn Pops milk slurped from the bowl. I predicted another dreadful Saturday at temple but what often happened were pockets of delight that soon curbed my whining.
I found that synagogue life, when you're a Jewish kid navigating teenhood, can be as boring as you make it. Sure, I could've stayed in the pews the entire service but instead I excused myself often to go to the bathroom and hang out with similarly meandering friends. We were a ragtag bunch; some of us hated synagogue, some of us were going to be religious like our parents, some of us brought along comics or books or - gasp! - Gameboy handhelds to distract us from the liturgy our parents seemed to passionately enjoy singing.
Also, as much as I anticipated sermons to be as interesting as manilla envelopes, they were often the part of the service I looked forward to most, since they were often in English, not Hebrew, and braided on modern morality with Biblical anecdotes. It wasn't all just a history lesson.
The community of synagogue wasn't lost on me, despite my exultations to Mom and Dad to let me stay home next week to watch Thundercats. But I don't think I really appreciated what the kinship of being in this home away from home can bestow on one's identity. I felt Jewish in synagogue. Obviously. But I didn't always feel Jewish outside its walls.
I don't look particularly Jewish, and you wouldn't know it if you only heard my first name. My surname is a dead giveaway. So when I first meet folks and they ask about my Christmas or Thanksgiving, I can see why I slip into their tent as one of them. I don't feel different until those moments, whether positively or negatively.
But I do feel closer to my people when I'm in an institution designed to welcome us all, no matter which religious rung we've hung our family banner. And my friends at shul in those early days had me reconsidering all the complaining I poured out of my tired throat. A Yiddish-like voice would say to me, "Oy, David, why all the complaining, do you really have it all that bad? At least you get some food at the end, unlike the non-Jews and their Sunday church."
What you see in this photo is a screenshot from my solo show trailer, edited by the talented Jacob Frenkel. In Jewnique, I wanted to get closer to what made me a Jew, much like how I wanted to get physically closer to these ancient scrolls that have barely passed across my presence since I was Bar Mitzvah'd. So that guilt has long fermented in my gut, and it tastes as bitter on my palate as horseradish on Passover.
Which brings me to why I'm writing this essay on synagogue as a sanctuary. On Saturday, a gunman killed one woman and injured three more in a San Diego synagogue, six months to the day when a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburg synagogue. This kind of lacerating news makes me sick to my stomach. I've always seen the synagogue as a place of refuge against the vile bile thrown at the Jewish people since, well, forever. To have this holy place decimated by anti-Semitic killers whose boldness to act on their evil ideologies is ramping up...it forces my fingers into palms as a frustrating protest that I can't voice beyond these pages.
Can't or won't? That's a question I've been lobbing between two sides of myself for decades, as I wonder how I can effectively fight the anti-Semitism that continues to ricochet across Jewish neighbourhoods around the world. Maybe my protest song started with writing and performing Jewnique as a way to educate others on how we can get closer to a culture that we may have abandoned in our youth. Maybe my song will end with a refrain that veers away from solo-show performances and leans hard into more direct approaches to combatting an ugliness that isn't abating anytime soon.
Author Elie Weisel once said, "The opposite of love isn't hate. It's indifference." So we (the global we and not just the Jewish we) have to be vigilant against the tendrils of venom dripping into corridors of our communities. Otherwise, it grows, strengthens and becomes another threat to our homes away from home.
The Ghosts that Love Me
They drift at will,
floating in and out of my walls,
quick to vanish when I stare too long.
I’m not sure when my dead friends started swaying
over my shoulder
but the dust swirled that first time
when Zac hovers above my bed,
a joint winking on his lips.
I almost crackle with laughter.
I almost reach out for a clap-hug.
Then he passes me the joint,
And my hand passes through his.
Marsha catches me in a snowstorm,
lobs transparent snowballs at my back,
all the while, she dances,
(god, she could move as smooth as seaweed in lakes)
she also cries,
still shimmying to no music,
and I’m reminded of how depression
flicked its embers on her hair,
lighting a fire she never wanted.
I dance with her, but I don’t cry.
She always loved my smile.
Wane and wax,
the moon lanterns my walk home from the Jays game.
Hovering above me, Marli is frowning,
track marks dotting her neck.
I want to ask her if she’s OK now,
but such a cliché question ferments in my gut.
I just want her close.
I’m tempted to call Jason,
let him know his sister is here,
a mile away from where they grew up,
as the moon languishes behind brewing clouds.
Marli meanders into a park. Looking back at me.
I don’t follow her.
*To buy my new book, visit here for various links.
If you're in Toronto, my book launch is May 8 at Handlebar (159 Augusta) at 7:30pm. Details here.
At 18, I wrote an article for a national newspaper and got published for the first time in The Toronto Star. The byline in high school came to me via a group called Young People’s Press. In the late 90s, This now-defunct organization worked with the Star on a section every Wednesday called Young Street (har har) where they gave teen writers a chance to share their opinions and hard journalism. This section was truly groundbreaking because there were few opportunities for Canadian youth to get published, beyond OWL! Magazine and library contests.
I started nosing around journalism in high school and decided to give YPP a try. I pitched an idea about the lack of faith within Jewish youth, a trend I started noticing in grade 9 among my buddies. We were being raised to respect Judaism, to go to synagogue, sure, but did many of us want to continue following anything our parents told us after we left home?
Within a week, YPP green-lit the story and I freaked out for a solid 24 hours, both out of joy and stress. Oh wait, now I actually have to interview my friends and rabbis and oh wow this is happening!
Fast-forward three weeks and the article went live on the site and in print. The confidence bursting felt euphoric. I felt like I could start freelancing for Wired and Toronto Life. I was all smiled at my high school, getting high-fives from friends and appreciate sentiments from teachers. But what came after my first byline was even more fulfilling than this landmark gig.
I'm at Ryerson journalism school in 2002, my final year there, when Chris at YPP called me to propose to me something I never thought I’d ever do.
“Dave, you want to be an advice columnist for a new project we’re launching?” He went on to explain they wanted to publish a syndicated advice column called Confidentially Yours, where a male and female advice columnist would answer questions from teens around Canada. The topics would range from relationships to family drama to school challenges to drug use to bullying.
“Yes, I’m in!” I answered Chris, my shocked face shifting into an expression that could only be the facial equivalent of double fist-pumps to the sky.
I worked with Jewel Kats on Confidentially Yours for three years, where I fielded questions weekly, save for the summer months. It’s a strange feeling to be an advice columnist at 22, 23, dishing tips to teens not much younger than you. I guess a part of me thought an advice columnist had to be wizened like Dr. Ruth or planning to major in social work. After all, as Dan Savage once said, an advice columnist doesn’t need any particular qualification beyond being asked to give advice.
I took this job very seriously, more than any job I had, the most recent being a three-monther at Blinds To Go that revealed to me how unsuited I was for retail. So when writing a column – and this wasn't for school, for marks! – came into my life, something sparked in me. I knew what it was after a year or so: I loved writing AND helping people. To do both at once, it just seemed too good to be truly my life.
What was wild about Confidentially Yours is how it was syndicated across Canada and the U.S. The scope of people I've hopefully helped blew me away. The column ran in newspapers, in their own youth sections, repping cities such as Halifax, Victoria, Calgary, Austin, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Des Moines, New York and Albany.
I remember answering a few questions about bullying, and they broke my heart. I thankfully didn’t face that kind of violence in school, but I remember not doing anything about it when I saw such intimidation happen in front of me. That guilt wound its way into a reply to one of the teens asking about bullying, and that was a CY column I won’t ever forget. It not only let me be vulnerable and honest in a way I never was before, but it also encouraged me to find another way to express myself. One of my most well-known spoken word poems focuses on that shame I felt when I saw bullies push around my classmates and I didn’t step in to help them.
When YPP folded three years into my CY column, a chapter from my early writing career came to a sighing close. I wasn’t disappointed the column was over. It had a good run, and it ended on a nice parting note, with Jewel and I saying goodbye in a final column. We both knew we did our part to help some kids who were unsure how to navigate into adult mode.
And well…did I? I was sorting it out myself too. Maybe that’s why CY appealed to some youth. They were getting advice from someone who freshly experienced what they might have gone through, even if the context of my situations may have been different from theirs. One teen asked me about trying marijuana, and and I remember refraining from joining any joint circles at the age of the teen. I knew about the peer pressure, even just the internal stress put on oneself about being part of your social crew by taking part in the latest thing. And hopefully my answer made him feel less alone.
When you look back at your past jobs, what do you see? A ladder taking you to where you are now, or maybe a playground slide that encouraged you to step outside your comfort zone, even if it weren’t something you’d be doing over and over, forever more? Or maybe you see a funhouse mirror, where you can spot different angles of yourself suddenly presented in a new light, but you aren’t exactly sure which reflection is truly the you’est of you?
My years as an advice columnist propelled me into seeing writing as a full-time career, while also spinning me around so I can see an emerging side of myself, the empathetic boy who would soon be a more giving man, as I decided to sacrifice an enormous amount of time to bring spoken word to the suburbs.
But that’s for another day, for another blog post.
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