Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Note About Dress

Ahhh to be free. Once again able to blog about whatever I please.

I went out last night, for the first time in a month. I understand once again the notion of tolerance. Or my lack thereof. I awoke after a very brief sleep feeling quite well, to my surprise and delight. I drank some coffee, put on sweat pants and waded through the streets to the office, taking my usual route. I hate sitting all day so I try to walk to and from work, as the weather has made it quite bearable. It also gives me time to think.

I was struck by insight not far from my office. Although I had showered and brushed my teeth, I was still clad in extra baggy gray sweatpants and my hair fairly matted. Aside from the odd glare of contempt, I went largely unnoticed on my way to the office, ducking and weaving between giant concrete blocks. I try to catch peoples eyes, but today was, generally speaking, one unmet glance after another.

During the week, I try to look sharp. I think I catch more glances. I think I go more noticed. Maybe people are daydreaming on the weekend, window shopping for watches with egregious price tags. Not interested in a rogue passerby. I'm willing to say though that the more raggedy said passerby looks, the more likely he or she is to get glossed over.

Be conspicuous.

Off to press my pants and shine my shoes.

Casual Fridays are bullshit, if you ask me.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Kakushin Story

Trusted readers, I've been lying to you for the last 8 weeks. This has been a long time coming.

The beginning:

It was about two months ago, a warm October afternoon: I flicked my wrist, releasing the metaphorical white towel into the air, before it flopped down on the canvas floor. My job wasn't going the direction I had hoped. I had learned a lot and it was a positive experience, overall. I just wanted something else. I closed the door on my days slanging pharmaceutical knowledge solutions. I didn't know exactly what I was doing, but it felt right.

I hadn't given much thought to what I wanted to do. It's just not my style, I guess. I needed some time to think. I had a few options on the table but they all proved far from what the truth would end up being. Looking back, I had jumped on an Air France flight to Slovakia, right after graduating, with much less rational thought than the average person might have thought necessary. And yet, no regrets. But 6 months later, I needed a change. I've always had something of a short attention span. I'm easily amused, but easily distracted.

Unemployment was awesome, for the first week. My phone broke and I started getting really bored, really fast. Raoul, the guy who was previously my direct boss had also recently quit. He sent me an e-mail. We met up when he was in town. A few beers later, pipe dreams were beginning to materialize on bar room napkins. One thing led to another, and we sort of ran with an idea. Having nothing on my plate, I immersed myself in the project, half-believing it wasn't actually happening.

Two months later, and with the full support of my fantastic family, I find myself in my own office with two of the people I most enjoyed working with - we recruited another former colleague who ended up quitting shortly after we did. The whole thing was serendipitous in the extreme and I am enthusiastic about the upcoming challenges and what is destined to be the tireless pursuit of success. I'm not sure where it will take me but I know if I do my best to make it a success I will be making forward progress.

We reached a tipping point today. Our first program is coming together and our website is up and running. Now that I have something to show for my time. I'm finally willing to say...


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Normal City?

The original idea from this post comes from a comment by a friend of mine, @tburts. It was one of those sound bites that blindsides you in any idle conversation you might be having. It catches you off guard. It sticks, like gum on your left converse. I remember the conversation, there's a photo of it burned into my brain. This blog then is that metaphorical stick with which I'll release myself of this stage 5 clinger.

So it was like this, posted up, the corner in site, when Tyler blurted it out. Why does Kingston make so much noise about wanting to be a normal city. There was no such thing as a normal city, our good friend declared.

I immediately liked what I heard. It was refreshing in a few ways. Just having finished orchestrating the entirety of Orientation week, including some verbose and harsh disputes with Kingston city council members I had been feeling fairly disenchanted with the town in which we resided, which I had come to call home. More importantly though, the brief audio-blurb resonated with me at a frequency that seemed fundamentally more sound.

When I think about it, it makes sense. Ottawa is different from Toronto, for reasons that are glaringly obvious to me (make up you're own local example. I'm sure if you are even only a little bit objective you'll see it to be true, I don't feel like explaining). And both Ontario cities are far diverged from Montreal, let alone Vancouver. The evolutions of our cities and their populations are complex, and not easily remedied with a few teaspoons of your favourite elixir. Moving to Bratislava has further atrophied the proposed notion that Kingston's desire to be neatly arranged in the "normal city" category is completely asinine. If Kingston considers itself atypical then I honestly don't know what to call this post communist hilarity I now occupy. Life's all about the angles.

Allow me to be bold and extrapolate for my boy TBURTS. In thinking about his statement I have more or less reached that a city is like any other organism. It's made up of it's composite parts, for better or for worse. Sure, the city has activities analogous to eating well and exercising, but it's still a product of it's past and a reflection of it's composite parts. It might be matured, young or somewhere in between. Whether or not that's what Tyler had in mind remains untold, he probably thought of something more clever.

Also, can you believe this guy??

Also, there's a stranger sleeping on my couch...More to come on that

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Ode to the Frizz

Well friends, the low frequency blogging continues. All the blogs I'm following have slowed down their rate of posting as well. Everyones busy with other stuff. I'm just lazy, I guess. Draped on my couch like the thick fog that has embraced my apartment building for the last few days.

I have thought a lot about Miss Frizzle in the last 36 hours. I don't know why. It must have something to do with that motto of hers: Make mistakes, take chances, get messy!

As I approach my departure date, I get excited about going home. But I also reflect more and more on my time here.

While I haven't been surfing on a sine wave, or riding a river of lava, I can't help but feel like I've been on something of a wild ride.

A few things have effected me pretty blatantly, not to say that I'm a new person or anything crazy. I'll give you an example. That should help. I ask a lot more questions now. This trip has been good for my curiosity. I am always trying to figure out my world. Without this renewed sense of wonder I would have taken much longer to get acclimatized to my new spot.

Getting sales experience has also helped. I'm harder to lie to now. I'll pinpoint your objection, with a volley of questions so thick that if they were arrows they would blot out the midday sun, prominently held high in the hand of the sky. I would have also lit the arrows on fire and soaked the grounds under your soles with petrol. Needless to say, mess with me and you'll find yourself in a pickle. A HOT pickle, no less. I can still be coy and charming as hell though. I would say that I'm maybe even more charming. Travel has given me some great talking points. Everyone should travel.

The thing about learning first hand, is that you're learning by doing. Which means you probably suck at the start. That's uncomfortable. But it's this lack of comfort, the one where your stomach is turning and your head spinning as you falter in embarrassing ways, that is so important. I've learned a lot from it. My head spins in a lot less situations now.

For that, I thank Miss Frizzle's school of hands-on.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Stark Realization

First of all, let me apologize for the lack of blogging. This unemployment gig has left me with so much time to fill, and no sense of urgency to fuel me to do anything meaningful.

Today I realized that I would be home in a little more than 3 weeks. Pretty crazy. How things have changed.

I spent a good part of today remembering my arrival, not even 6 short months ago. For example, right now I just got back from the grocery store, I remember when I didn't know where that was. I've since learned the whereabouts of many supermarkets, not to mention the exact locations of all of my most preferred foodstuffs. I can have small conversations with the cashiers.

I took the tram today. Actually, I took a few trams today. Come to think of it, I actually played the tramschedule like a jazz flute on the way to and from work. I caught a number of short routes, rather than waiting like a chump for the easiest tram to show up.

At the start, everything was serious. I was on edge. My senses were in overdrive, trying to intercept every stimuli no matter how small, while the switchboard that is my brain, scrambled like it was being operated by a gorilla on roller-skates. Moreover,I couldn't interact with anyone or rely on myself to get anywhere. Except for that one time on the first night when I was pissed drunk and got lost, then conveyed to a taxi driver I lived by the (now torn down) hockey arena by making slapshot motions and shouting player names.

I remember was listening to this. Seems a lot funnier now.

I take a lot of stuff for granted. I should work on that. Entitlement is a dangerous thing.


I am not taking going home for granted. Far too excited.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ode to Roger

I mentioned Roger Martin in a post a few days ago. A friend later directed me to an article he had written regarding the state of Canadian Education. From there I perused a few more articles and interviews he had written for The Walrus. Finally I came across one about the future of the Canadian Economy. It was a great read with some great lines that reminded me why I like so much what Mr. Martin has to say. Here is the article in it's entirety and below are a few of my favourite excerpts.

"So when I talk about how we should tax corporations, I am not making an argument about the size and involvement of government. I am making an argument about the intelligence with which governments in Canada tax corporations. Currently our taxation IQ is double digit — in a word, pathetic. "

"Our only choice is whether we want to be ahead of the curve or behind it. I can’t and won’t stop arguing this point because whiny people say that it would be hard to change. The truly hard thing is living with the consequences of profoundly bad decisions. "

"Second, keep pressing forward. There is greater danger from standing still and hoping the status quo will prevail than from innovating and being wrong. "

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Language Fail in Progress

Can I tell you how bad is it, my English?

I don’t mean to harp on these ESL folk. They are doing a great job learning the language of innovation. In 90% of cases their English is LEAPS AND BOUNDS ahead of my Slovak (or Turkish, as it may be). So kudos. And besides, when girls struggle to properly engineer phrases, it makes me smile. The backwards grammar they employ is more often than not, hilariously attractive, for a reason that still eludes me.

HOWEVER, it’s not all good. Between my (former) colleagues and my flatmate, I hear a lot of people speaking English as their second language. It’s not a bad thing either though, just another observation. I appreciate their efforts. Without them, I would have zero friends. FURTHERMORE, I am able to appreciate that mastery of spoken and written English is a tricky task. Unfortunately for me though, I’m something of a language copycat. I don’t know how else to describe it. Maybe it’s my extreme empathy, or desire to mitigate conflict, but I often find myself absorbing and repeating the catch phrases of the people around me. My dad says he does something similar, so maybe I can blame genetics. It is a phenomenon that has been with me as long as I can remember, and one that I constantly, try to consciously subvert. The symptoms now are worse than ever, having progressed from acute to chronic in the last few months. Despite my persistent efforts to catch myself, my language has become subject to follies. No longer am I mimicking buzzwords or slogans, but the language structure spewed by the ESL majority.

“I’ll catch you up tomorrow” I shout to a parting friend. “What the hell does that even mean?” I immediately ponder. Self-loathing follows. The most common case is the mixing up of noun-subject agreements in sentences. To list the flurry of examples that come to mind would be downright shameful.

In drafts of these blog posts, not to mention my every day interactions, I find myself composing sentences with structure so off it’s as though they’re afflicted with some unique literary strain of scoliosis. I have to read every word, sure that I won’t embarrass myself with grammatical slip up, after grammatical slip up. Actually, had it not been for this blogging experiment I think it’s safe to say that the erosion of my language skills would be far, far worse. All thanks and praise to the mighty Google for allowing me this pulpit from which to practice my prose.

And of course thanks to you, conscientious reader, for your patience and understanding as I try to keep my purposeful command of the English word from atrophying or disappearing altogether.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why I Hate the SIC

Ok ok, I don't actually hate the Social Issues Commission of your favourite organization. I just wanted your attention. I realize the importance and value these groups bring to the table, and I do not mean to undermine it whatsoever. But I think such said commissions are guilty of simplifying the issues at hand in their honourable crusades to eradicate "isms" everywhere, which unfortunately, ultimately negate from the goals they are trying to accomplish. I read a life changing book that I reference a lot "The Opposable Mind." In it, Roger Martin talks about how issues and situations are usually much more complex than we are willing to admit. We simplify things because it's easier to get our points across if we don't take all of the overwhelming details and complex interactions of these details into account. Sometimes we don't have the resources to thoroughly analyze the relationships between all of the factors at play, or sometimes we just want to be right, so we generalize, glossing over things that might be important. Unfortunately, this is destined to lead to sub-standard decision making.

Due to the complex nature of social issues I think this happens a lot in this particular arena.

In my experience, (my name comes up in paragraph 6...I also realize that now even the term "Sensitivity Training" is insensitive...) in working with Social Issues Commissions, they try, but generally fail to do much in the ways of educating people. At the end of anti-oppression training sessions, majority groups are left quivering in fear that they might accidentally step on toes; or worse, they feel as though they are being lectured and tune out. I've been out of the establishment for almost 8 months now and I sincerely hope things are changing for the better through the encouragement of dialogue and discussion by all parties. Though I maintain a healthy skepticism.

In my short time away from Kingston, I've come across some extremely overt and systemic acts of racism. The most prolific example is the engrained hate in Eastern Europe directed at the Roma people (colloquially referred to as Gypsies).

I was shocked when I heard my new Slovak friends talk about these people as second class citizens. They referenced their low standards of education, and their exploitation of children and child welfare laws. Coming from a left-leaning, uber-inclusive environment I was astounded at the blatant disregard for the rights of another group of people. The racism was overt and systemic and unlike anything I had been privy to. But rather than judge and condemn my new-compatriots, I tried to understand where they were coming from. After all, earlier in the week I had had a Roma man spit in my face when I refused to give him a cigarette (I don't smoke, so I didn't have cigarettes) and I had seen many children begging for money as their parents stood around the corner egging them on.

So I did a little research. In true Dr. House fashion, I figured that their must be a reason behind such behaviour. It wasn't until I saw a BBC Documentary, "The Lost World of Communism" that I began to understand. To continue with this Roma example, which hits particularly close to my new home, we must go back to Romania in the 1960s. Particularly, we must examine the reforms instituted by the man who I believe, is quite obviously one of the primary culprits, Nicolae Ceausescu. As the leader of Communist Romania in the late 60's, old boy Nicolae was in quite the position of power (I've learned in my time in my own new home/post-communist country that things were not NEARLY as egalitarian as the propaganda would have you believe. Orwell's Animal Farm paints a surprisingly accurate picture of the corruption and greed by those in power, but that's a story for another day). Ceausescu had great dreams for his society but lacked execution, you might say. To build his palaces and optimally exploit the natural resources of the land thereby maximizing his countries economic output he came to the logical conclusion that he would need a massive labour force. He demolished rural dwellings and communities, removing people from their homes all over the country side and built giant panelak housing units (lit: concrete panel houses) on the outskirts of Bucharest, not unlike the one I live in today (ok, way more decrepit and derelict than my current abode in Bratislava, but the same idea) in which to house the new and centralized work force in. He made physical labour the new national priority, forget education. Let me say that one more time so you can grasp the magnitude of it: He destroyed homes and forced the majority of the population to do physical work for low wages (sounds like little more than slavery, if you ask me). He then figured that to optimize national output he would need the largest workforce possible. So he outlawed abortion. This was even more significant than you might think because he had already made all methods of contraception illegal. So now if you are a Romanian in the late 60s you have in all likelihood been forced to do physical labour at low wages and are forbidden by the federal government from having safe sex. But that wasn't enough for Nicolae, he went on to hail mothers of 10 or more children as state heroes and instituted income taxes of up to 50% on married couples above the age of 25 who had no children. A myriad of terrible side effects ensued but the most obvious are that the education of the Roma people declined and a culture of child-bearing was established.

So the crazy racist ramblings of my new neighbours suddenly seem a lot more understandable. I don't think it's justified, but I can clearly understand why these attitudes exist.

Now maybe this is an isolated experience and all other attitudes and isms are not based in such obvious fact. However we are all able to speak only from our own practical experiences, and my most recent ones have been extremely eye opening for someone who considered himself at least somewhat educated vis a vis social issues, and which I had to travel half way around the world to attain. So I would love to see those campaigning for social issues (which include some really great people, I don't mean to cast broad brush strokes) seek to educate as to why these attitudes exist. It did a lot for me to understand that some of the stereotypes I had heard about Roma were quasi-truths, or at least had some foundation in fact. From there, it was much easier for me to understand where the racist attitudes of my colleagues and friends were coming from. So rather than explain to frosh leaders and students-at-large that racism, sexism and all other kinds of oppression are wrong, I am beginning to believe we must strive to explain why these attitudes exist before we go on to debunk them, challenge them and/or examine ways to change them. Rather than the current practice of throwing terminology and best practice at everybody enrolled in a post-secondary institution and patting ourselves on the back for a job well done (I'm guilty of this part too)!

Anyways, my point here, and the big angle I'm trying to play is not to hate on people championing human rights, (I reiterate that I think the work is critical despite what the title of this post might suggest) but that we can always do things better and we must not be afraid to objectively analyze and critique our methods lest we remain blindfolded to better solutions that we may not have yet imagined, even when the subject matter is sensitive.

As always, comments, questions and discussion are welcome and encouraged.
Thanks for stopping by.

Public Displays of Affection

Being unemployed, I often feel cooped up inside my house all day. Probably because that's what I do. As a result I spend a lot of my free time (which conveniently makes up all my time) at malls, cafes and bars, in search of humans to interact with and observe. Not a bad life, right? It’s a necessary attempt at breaking the monotonous cycle though. I also just realized there are a lot of “o”s in monotonous. I ALSO, just realized I’m the best-dressed person at this particular coffee shop, by a long shot.

In the last week that I’ve been frequenting these places, burning money I don’t have, I’ve noticed that no matter where I end up, there seems to be pair of young teens in the middle of a heavy-petting session. Simply put, it’s quite lewd.
Now I’ve been to a lot of coffee shops in Canada, malls and bars too. Especially bars. And yet I have never seen such frequent and obnoxious displays of affection in public places. It got me thinking. Maybe there isn’t the associated stigma here, as there is in North America. I think that has to be true.

I’ve begun to dig a little deeper though (being unemployed allows me ample time to dream about why pre-pubescent teenagers escape to public places to get all up on each other). And I think that’s the secret, escape.

You see just like me, most of the people in this post communist wonderland I now call home live in giant concrete panel housing blocks. Our flat is quite nice, but it’s not THAT big. It’s a living room, a kitchen and a few bedrooms. Sure, a family could live there, and many do. But short of closing your door and keeping your voices low, there would be little method to escape from mom and dad, were you forced to share one of these places with your elder family members. As a result, if you want to have any chance of getting past hugs and handholding you’ve got to “amscray” (whoa, haven’t used pig-Latin in awhile, -But it feels right given the juvenile subject matter of this post) from watchful parental eyes. Considering the respective prices of movies, beer and coffee, of course this is where the youngin’s end up. Furthermore, I’m willing to bet that winter is especially bad as parks and secluded benches become less accessible and more clothes hamper flesh-on-flesh contact.

I think the take home lesson for me, not that any of this has been particularly insightful, is that everyones actions and attitudes reflect their circumstances, and not always in ways that are incredibly obvious. Now, time to get back to some reading, while fighting the urge to stare at the guy feeling up his girlfriend, right beside me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fever Pitch Frustration

I was at my friend Adele's house in grade 3, when it first happened. Somebody proposed a game of charades. Ever since that moment at the base of his cream coloured carpeted stair case I have despised the game, and all variations on the stupid theme, drama classes included. I'm someone who appreciates language, obviously. Why would anyone waste their time, let alone find amusement in, trying to act out a dumb phrase. It doesn't make sense to me. We developed speech for a reason.

Now, in some ironic twist of fate my whole life has become a game of charades. In 95% of instances, I can't talk with anyone around me I am constantly forced to try and convey my needs and desires by elaborate hand motions and facial expressions. It got old, fast. But Slovak has been a whore of a language to grasp, despite my quasi-tenacious efforts. So here I am, victim of circumstance in this cruel, cruel world of ours: Hating myself every time I'm obliged to give a thumbs up.

Case in point: I tried to buy a new phone today, because the piece of shit I've been using -Previously employed by my flatmate Sarp circa 2004- finally bit the dust. After an hour of such said acting game I thought, at last, I was set to walk away with a fresh handset. Then, all of a sudden, my new friend Lucia said she had to make a phone call. Then she made another. Immediately thereafter, she informed me that unfortunately, because my residence visa is only one year (that's all you can get, by the way) and all the phone contracts are 2 years, there was absolutely no way she would be able to help me. Despite my pleading and attempts at reasoning with her I walked home, in the sleet, spiting T-Mobile.

I would start drinking but I have about 45 other things to do. Who knew being unemployed could be so much work? Oh yeah, I might have forgot to mention I quit my job. More to come regarding that when my blood temperature drops from a boil to a mere simmer.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Lonely Planet On Communism

I just got back from the grocery store, where I was met with incredibly long lines. I was head to head with the post-church rush.

During my family travels, I obviously spent some time leafing through the Lonely Planet. Allow me to quote a few passages about my new surroundings.

"The communist era basically dotted the landscape and cities with eyesores. The building material of choice was concrete. Vast, truly ugly panelak (concrete apartment buildings made with prefabricated panels) popped up on the outskirts of cities in both nations [Czech Republic and Slovakia], especially during the 1960s and 70s. Slovakia was particularly hard hit. The communist era left some monumentally odd structures..."
Pg. 41

"Forty-five years of communist rule was bound to leave a mark. An obsession with modern functionalism resulted in many odd, sometimes depressing structures... The entire Petrzalka concrete jungle housing estate is a good example of the communist egalitarian ethics of old. These ugly buildings all look identical."
Pg. 347

Basically this was just a cop-out from doing any creative writing of my own! More of that to come soon. I promise.

Enjoy your extra hour of sleep, loyal North American reader.