Do you have a friend or colleague who embodies everything that is toxic? Do they make you feel small or depressed or anxious or simply negative? Yeah, so did I, several in fact, but around a decade ago I made a concerted effort to cut loose my ties to these poisonous people who were contributing nothing to our relationship but suffering.
I learned then, and I bullhorn it now to you, that pushing the toxic people out of your life can be incredibly rewarding. I found myself looking forward to meeting any group of friends, instead of dreading seeing that one Danny Downer who would likely kill the good vibes.
And I also learned awhile ago to embrace the creative people in my life, be they friend, lover or acquaintance. See, I've always being around creative folks, especially writers and poets whose approach to the arts and community aligned closely with my own thinking. I've opened the door to other creatives too, such as guitarist Maneli Jamal who continues to inspire me today. When we collaborated on a piece together, him on guitar me on the ol' wordbox, that energy we created, that fusion of disciplines, was energizing. And powerful. That relationship made me once recognize how valuable I find the creative people in my life who want their voices heard, who want to share their craft with the world if only to bring some lovely light into it.
So my advice is to dissolve the toxic relationships albatrossing around your neck, and seek those who inspire you. For me, it's the wild dreamers and artistic daredevils who make me smile inside and out.
When I heard author and business guru Seth Godin speak those words in a podcast several months ago, they lingered in my mind like a catchy chorus:
"When was the last time you did something for the first time?"
A long time, some of us might say. I was definitely in the "not enough" category, since there were some ideas I had in my aspirational back-burner I wanted to shift to the get-done list.
Godin went on to say complacency can be the worst thing to happen to a creative or entrpreneur, and as someone in the freelance stage of my life, I knew I had the freedom to go after practically anything I wanted now. And I also knew how to staying pat was oh so deliciously easy and gratifying, but it definitely didn't challenge the part of me that needed to be pushed.
Take a risk, Godin goads us in this podcast. Let your brain tackle something fresh and new and wild. Don't be afraid to screw up. We're all terrible at something we do for the first time. But like a Dan Savage refrain, it gets better.
Recently, I decided to stop saying "I will do that" and said "I AM doing to do that!" I'm going to do two things for the first time.
First, I'm going to take improv classes in January until March, an art form I've always admired in the theatre chair but now I'm hungry to take that stage. And later this year, I'm launching a poetry podcast! I'm unbelievably stoked about this project, and rest assured you'll be hearing a lot more about it in the coming months.
I'm taking these two risks because I want to keep my brain percolating as I do the journalim and arts-education hustling. I know that life now, snagging those journo gigs and inspiring kids at schools, and I frickin love it but I'm also interested in exploring the range of my skills. I want to see how improv and podcasting influence my life.
Tell me...when was the last time you did a new thing for the first time? And if it's been eons, what's stopping you?
2017 will mark the 17-year anniversary of my hosting debut at Suburban Spoken Word, the reading series I used to run in the nosebleed section of North York. Including that series, I've hosted more than 400 shows in Toronto and elsewhere, thanks to Toronto Poetry Slam, one-off shows at venues like Word on the Street and the Harbourfront Centre, and five weddings (I'm available to host your wedding! PM me!)
I thought it'd be helpful for any hosts out to here to check out my list of the key lessons I've taken away by getting behind a mic and curating shows on stages big and small.
In no particular order:
The flavour of impending excitement is hard to describe. It's heavily seasoned with expectation and inspiration, with the aftertaste of "Let's get this going already!" It's unlike any other emotion.
I have a big project in the works, coming mid-2017, and while I can't discuss the details yet, rest assured it marries my passion for both spoken word and media. Undoubtedly, it will be one of the more ambition independent projects I've embarked on, and I couldn't be more thrilled.
So I'm savouring this taste of "can't wait!" for now. And I'm interested to learn where this emotion takes me, and how it can jumpstart new ideas for this project that may not have surfaced if my brain wasn't so percolated.
I'll be able to reveal more about what I'm working on in a month or so. Stay tuned!
Oh, to be young again!
For a true throwback post, in this video you can revel in the skinny-faced glory of myself, 4 members of the Toronto Poetry Slam Team of 2007, and the inimitatable Shane Koyczan.
The 2007 TPS Team were: Amanda Hiebert, Krystle Mullin, Mike Smith and Arianna Pozzuolli.
We were interviewed by Ian Ferrier, a Montreal poet and producer, who was chatting with features invited to the Words Aloud Festival in Durham, Ontario. It was, and still is, a wonderful and mentally nourishing festival on all things poetry, fiction and spoken word, and I only have fond memories of our time invited to perform and workshop in Durham.
Watching this video today reminds me of two main things: first, how close I've kept these friendship I fostered that year, particularly Shane who lives hundreds of miles away but when we hang, it's like he's a brotha from another motha. And two, how close everyone was on the slam team. And that doesn't always happen, looking across the country. And that is something that shouldn't be taken for granted. Everyone simply gelled, and it came through in the poetry produced on stage.
So for 6 minutes in nostalgic heaven, here are our ramblings during this cozy interview in 200y:
Recently, a friend and I were talking about his new car, and he talked about the something something power in his engine, what great shocks he had, and I had to stop him to remind him I know zilch about cars. It's just one of those things I care very little to know, study, get thrilled about.
He then backtracked, quite patiently, to explain what was kickass about his new ride, and I realized something then: Too often we can smile and nod and pretend to know the basics of what we're being told, but why lie to ourselves? I'm assuming there's a Canadian politeness at play. There's some shame here. Sometimes we might stay silent to keep the flow of the conversation going.
One of the great things about being a journalist is how it's kept me curious. I want to know stuff I don't know, learn about people I've long admired but never met. I find it exciting to admit to myself, "Yep, I know nothing about how lawyes are using virtual reality, but I want to learn about about this idea ace to the sap."
We should tell ourselves, and the people around us, when we don't know something because doing otherwise would be a disservice to our own growth.
I saw this question on reddit recently and it got me thinking: Which authors and books influenced me in my early adulthood?
Reading has always been an important layer to my life. As someone who knew he wanted to be a writer since he was 13, reading was my gateway drug into writing, and I devoured as many books as I could get from the library. And without a doubt, my writing reflects the many authors who I've long admired.
Below are the authors, and particularly the books, which shaped my 20s. I'd love to hear from you - which authors, whether in fiction or non-fiction, made a major impression on you?
If you aren't watching the recent season of South Park, get on that. Stat. It's 20th season is one of the show's best.
I could go on and on about what this season got right, but I want to focus, for at least one post, on a genius story construct courtesy Trey Parker and Matt Stone: the Member Berries.
In this season, a Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton parallel plays out, with Mr. Garrison as the blowhard Trump who's saying incredibly offensive things but still winning support at rallies and in the polls. Kyle's dad doesn't understand why Americans are loving Garrison's boorish style, and then he discovers his South Park friends are all eating strange berries. And these berries are called Member Berries because they have cute little faces and wax nostalgic about everything 90s and earlier. Mainly Stars Wars stuff, due to a storyline I won't spoil here.
It's easier shown than explained. See below:
What the Member Berries cleverly gin up is the sentiment shared by many Trump supporters in the U.S. - Let's go back to the old days! What's with all this immigration?! I remember the great Reagan era, THAT was America!
The Berries, like Trump, brought out the worst in people. They lazily gobbled them up like white nationalists who devoured Trump's braggadocio. And the issue became so severe in South Park there was an AA-type group for Berry addicts who craved nostalgia.
All this goes to show that once again South Park is getting better every year in pinpointing the folly of what we get wrong, wrapped in an animated dramatization that hits far closer to home than anything else on television.
I was going to blog about how a city that elected Rob Ford could offer lessons to a country that elected Donald Trump. But then Jonathan Goldsbie wrote this fantastic article for NOW
Toronto knows a thing or two about turning a joke into jaw-dropping reality. I was thinking recently about the similarities between Rob Ford and Donald Trump, but before I got to typing on this blog I picked up NOW Magazine and found this spot-on Jonathan Goldsbie article.
And he writes everything I wanted to write. So I'm not going to elaborate on how Goldsbie nicely relates what Ford did to Toronto to what Trump will do to the U.S.
Enjoy the read.
Many of us want to be #1 at what we do. The best poet, the top gamer, the most prolific actor, the highest-ranked student, the employee with the highest sales. Even on a less competitive scale, we may hunger for the most amount of respect among our peers or friends. Our game-show reality-TV-friendly society covets the top dog.
Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry is widely considered one of the best basketball players in the world. He's won MVP Awards, took home a championship ring two years ago, and recently broke the record for the most three-pointers in a game (13). He makes impossible shots look elementary. He dribbles like he's been doing it since birth (he likely has). He breaks ankles of 10-year veterans when he makes wild circus shots over their feeble shot-block attempts. Curry is an All-Star for a reason: he excels in his field, like very few have.
Thing is, we don't all have to aim to be Steph Curry. There's another player who was just as instrumental as the three-point specialist when they won the 2015 NBA Championship: Andre Iguodala.
The 12-year combo guard isn't flashy or dropping jaws. As a fantastic defender, Iguodala shuts down the opposing team's top stars, from Kevin Durant to LeBron James. His stat lines aren't going to make sports-page headlines. He plays as one of the best supporting cast roles in the league.
Look at his plus-minus rating. Plus-minus measures the point differential for the team when the player is on the court, which is the difference in the points scored for and the points scored against. Iggy is already, once again, in the top 10 for plus-minus, at +78. He simply makes lineups better when he's on the floor. He isn't demanding the ball but instead pushing himself to hustle to get offensive rebounds, make that extra pass, take a key charge, help rookies learn the game.
No wonder he won the Finals MVP award in 2015, instead of the on-court sensation Curry or the sharpshooter Klay Thompson.
I think it's more feasible, and more admirable, to try to be more Iguodala than Curry. How many of us can truly reach the excellence of Steph Curry? Very few. But many people have a better opportunity to be a team player like Iggy, who can help his team (think: your company, your family, your slam team) by doing the little things that end up coalescing into a major benefit to your collective.
A Grantland profile revealed how Iguodala studied the game of a player that greatly influenced his game today. "Iguodala really wanted to be like Scottie Pippen. And the more he watched, the more he realized that Jordan's teammate Scottie Pippen influenced the game in profound ways, often without scoring."
You can influence your company or your community without scoring. You can assist others (get it?), defend your position to the best of your ability, block any attacks that could harm you and those you love. Forget about being #1. You can be #10 and still have a major impact on what you do.
To paraphrase an advertising cliche, be like Iggy.
About David's Blog
My musings about the arts, Toronto, technology, journalism, sports.