Life After Lunch

Today I got the opportunity to root through a dead guy’s apartment. It’s a surreal experience. A somewhat estranged relative of my father’s passed away a couple weeks ago and today, with his brother and sister-in-law, my cousin and my dad, I went through his Surrey townhouse.

The last time I saw ‘Cousin John’ was probably ten years ago. Even then, years before his heart attack in a cinema parking lot, conversations about him took on a past-tense tone. He was branded as an odd man to my siblings and I, and we never did a good enough job of staying in touch.

After seeing his place, I regret not taking more time to talk to the man. He had bookshelves filled with science fiction books that I’d love to read. John’s interests were varied–he had military books, shelves dedicated to aircraft and it seems like he had a growing interest in submarines right before the end. The shelves also held textbooks on chemistry and biology, as well as books on alien encounters and TWO copies of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

Though he was a fairly messy person (according to dad he always was, they had lived together for a couple years way back) I’ve been told that he was always very clever, maybe spending too much time on the more important questions of the day to have a chance to tidy up. I’m sure it’s partly because he was family, but I started to notice similarities between us as I walked through the rooms. He had two typewriters. I don’t know if he used them or just had them around.

I could’ve done a better job connecting with him, because after all I don’t know why he was so estranged from the rest of us. I mean, we’re a weird family anyway and he was just across the bridge in Surrey.

Family is too easy to take for granted.

Who’s Actually Reading

Your memories on Facebook

Mark, we care about you and the memories that you share here. We thought you’d like to look back on this profile photo from 2 years ago.

I saw one of those this morning. What a load of BS. These kind of messages really drive me crazy because of the ridiculous tone. ‘We care about you.’ Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? I think I’m going to deactivate it again.

Honestly, when I saw it today my first thought was, you don’t know a thing about me, but Facebook arguably knows more about me than anyone else. The disgusting amount of information they have on us, from what we give them willingly, to what they gather as they follow us across the internet, is terrifying. Even for people who’ve never had an account, the company has a wealth of knowledge about you.

It’s wild. A company started by a guy in college (I haven’t seen the movie, so I’m a little fuzzy on the details. I also don’t know how accurate the movie is) is now one of the most powerful businesses in the world. And I hope he has a good team, because they have so much power.

If we feel like the power fossil fuel companies have today is bad, what is the landscape going to be like in the future when it’s Google, Apple, Facebook, and whoever else buying all the politicians? They know everything about us.

I was thinking about this the other day. As companies and governments have more and more information about us, what is that world going to look like? How will malevolent regimes use that power to crush dissent? During the Harper-era of Canadian politics CSIS and the RCMP watched environmentalists and Indigenous communities who were (and remain) opposed to projects like pipelines and destructive resource-extraction. They probably still do.

Below the surface, behind the scenes, on the net, control over people is changing in a huge way. It doesn’t help that in Canada we keep electing people who don’t understand the ramifications, or don’t care–a problem that is a million times worse in the States, and arguably causes more problems to us here and to our friends across the globe, than domestic policies do.

And the weirdest part of all of it to me is that it’s impossible to know what these companies know about us. Government’s in Europe are trying to crack down on these things, like with the ‘Right to be Forgotten’–in short to take yourself offline–but at the end of the day companies break laws and keep doing more intrusive things every day.

Anyway, I’m not the person to be talking about online privacy. There’s a wealth of information online if you’re curious about it, but if there’s a small take away from this blog, it’s just to think about it. Ugh. We care about you.

(Because this is just a blog post I’m not going to source anything, so take what I say as you will, but if you look up these issues you’ll find a lot written on them). 

Change

I’ve hit up a bunch of different bookstores in the last couple days because I’m desperate for some good fiction, but whenever anyone offers to help me I keep saying, ‘I’m just looking.’

Because if I was honest I’d say I want a book about change. I want to read a book that will make me want to quit my job and go to Europe, and be excited about it. I want a book that takes all the fear and nervous energy and restlessness I’ve felt lately and reassures me that it’s normal, okay, and even good to see where one simple and kind of reckless impulse takes me.

I’d like to read a book about someone who isn’t certain of anything beyond the fact that they’re uncertain. And confused. And then I’d like to live it, and have almost everything go right, but enough things go wrong to keep it interesting.

Maybe a book that reads like Hemingway but is set in a contemporary world, with contemporary issues and characters that feel alive today. People that I’d imagine passing on the street.

I probably should’ve just asked, because after visiting three bookstores yesterday I came home empty-handed. I have a few books I’m in the middle of that I keep revisiting and then reshelving. I don’t know why nothing is holding my interest.

Today I went to Indigo while I waited for an oil change and I bought Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a classic–and from what I’ve heard a book perhaps more relevant today than ever. I’ll get to it once I’m finished The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, which is pretty good. I’ve found that I can read any of his books pretty easily, but I guess that’s the reason why he’s so well known. I hope him and Margaret clear up this reader’s drought I’m living.

And not to mention the writer’s block. I’m all plugged up! It’s like flu season in my brain. I’ll average about 500 words of nonsense a day (beyond the nonsense here on the blog) and reading it back is just depressing. I should set up a proper counter and then once I’d written all the bad stuff down and had nothing left but the gold, I could say THIS IS HOW MANY WORDS IT TOOK TO GET TO SOMETHING READABLE: _____. I’m not there yet, but we must be well into the 200,000’s now. Closing in on the 300k’s, I bet.

I figure, at least I’m pretty good grammatically and spelling-wise. Maybe good, not great, and usually I can write with a pretty strong flow. My stories are just terrible. Depressingly terrible. And I keep thinking, how am I ever going to be a rich and widely read novelist if I can’t write a good story at 24! Not even a decent short story, let alone a novel.

Now, I think if I was giving myself advice it would be: keep writing. Don’t stop. And one day, fingers crossed, something will come out of my brain and hands that’s worth buying. Or at least worth stealing from the internet.

Forget Thursday

I think it’s time to go.

It just feels that way. Time for a change.

I should grow a moustache again, start wearing really tight striped t-shirts and pants that don’t go all the way to my shoes and hitchhike through Eastern Europe.

Or maybe I’ll just dye my hair and get some tattoos. And face piercings.

I’d really like to go to Tallinn, in Estonia. Check out the pictures online, because the city looks so beautiful. I think I’d do a little tour starting there and then go to Riga, and then maybe I’d jump to Prague. I don’t know how practical that would be. Next I could pass through Vienna on the way to Budapest, then stop briefly in Zurich on the way to France. Then I think I’d hang out in the south of France until I ran out of money and had to come home. Maybe try to see a bit of Spain as well?

I think it would be nice, but I just worry about who would take care of my kombucha.

It’s a beautiful day outside and I’m trying to figure out how to proper seize it. I’d like to get some sun-time, but my shoulders are a little burnt from getting some sun-time on Tuesday. I’m a fool, I get sunburnt every year because I don’t think. I even put on sunscreen this time, just only on my face and neck. I guess by next summer I should have it figured out.

Really, it’s crazy important to be careful with the sun. When I was a teenager I spent a summer working for a non-profit that worked to raise awareness of skin cancer and support those going through treatment and survivors. We’d do things like give out sunscreen at summer events, it’s wild how many people don’t think about it.

I’m a pretty light skinned guy, so it’s always on my mind, it’s just that I’m also an idiot so I often brush it off, like I did the other day, and now my shoulders are crazy itchy. I’m trying not to think about it but it’s clearly not working.

I think I’ll probably do the same thing I do almost every day, go downtown to drink coffee, eat a muffin, and either read or write or maybe both. I’ve found that lately I’m having a really hard time getting engaged into fiction. I’ve been reading the New Yorker (12 issues for $12 promotion!), and a lot of non-fiction books, but I can’t get into any novels that I pick up. I guess I just haven’t found the right one.

(Book recommendations can be sent to mark@markdunn.ca).

The last book I read (fiction category) was a Romanian novel. It was fairly short, called The Vain Art of the Fugue. The author is Dumitru Tsepeneag. I liked it, though it was hard to follow. The story was about a man meeting a woman, but told from several different perspectives in what feels like several different universes, the narrative completely unravelling by the end. It’s worth a read.

 

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To answer your question, yes, I am still bogged down in thought about the ‘law of attraction.’ It’s been around a week since I started thinking about it again, and though my Lamborghini still has not arrived (and neither have my mysterious cheques) just the inherent absurdity of the law is helping me stay positive. And because it’s hardly a bad thing to have a positive outlook, I’m digging it.

What do I want to talk about?

It’s been around eight months since I’ve had a drink–the longest I’ve gone since I first tried it (though that’s been true for a while now). My goal back then was to go for a whole year (and a little bit), I figured I’d reevaluate when I turn 25 in October. At this point I’m really not sure what I’ll do. I might never drink again.

Quitting, and accepting the reality of why I had to quit were really different things. Not drinking was easy at first, but telling people why and then being accountable to them was completely different. The big question I kept coming back to was, what is wrong with me? Why me, right? I figured I wasn’t normal, because normal people can drink responsibly, can stop before they get sick or their brain turns itself off, or at the very least they realize that frequent black outs are a problem.

I mean, quitting wasn’t easy either, I should make that clear. It took me five or six tries in 2016 for it to stick. I did two separate sober-months and then tried to quit a bunch of times over the summer without much luck.

There’s an aspect of self-medicating to it, and then the medication becomes its own problem because it isn’t a cure for what’s hurting. I think that’s a hard part of kicking any habit–especially booze. Once drinking becomes its own recognizable problem, its easy to think that once you beat that everything will be perfect, but the other issues never left. And now that you’ve stopped treating them they’re back and you have to sort them out in a healthier way which is hard. I wasn’t really equipped.

But I’ve always been like this, I was never a responsible drinker. I wonder if in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson) the serum Jekyll drank was some sort of allusion to alcohol. The story always resonated with me because of Jekyll’s inability to resist the potion he created, knowing that it would transform him into a monster. I felt like that often, but I always lost control so quickly. It was something I thought I’d be able to manage despite the fact that I rarely could.

I don’t know if I’ll ever drink again. I might. I kind of hope one day I can, and it’s just normal, and I have beers once in a while, and rarely get drunk but sometimes it just happens but it’s always a fun story and never an issue. That’s the dream, but it might not be realistic. There might be something mis-wired in me. It’s possible that the contractor taking care of the addiction areas of my brain cut corners and there’s no chance for repair.

But that could be a good thing.

Texting While Biking

So I don’t know how much weight to give it, but I’ve been watching videos about celebrities and the law of attraction, or positive thinking, also-known-as the secret (I think). I don’t know if it’s all BS or if there’s actually merit in the idea that we attract what we think about, and so if we’re positive we attract positivity, and if we’re down or depressed we bring more negative energy into our lives. This week I’m trying to live more positively and see if it works.

It’s kind of a bad deal for people dealing with depression or other mental health issues though, because you can’t just turn them off and be positive. I know this from personal experience, because I was once someone who often used to suggest that unhappy people just be happy. I was ignorant, and kind of a huge dickhead.

But there must be something to it. The ‘Law of Attraction’ which is a ‘Law of the Universe’ suggests that what we focus on we can bring into our life. If you’ve read The Secret, you know that the author suggests having visualization walls, and that simply by the power of thought you can attract things into your life. It’s interesting to think about when you consider some of life’s coincidences. (I’m not a fan of The Secret).

It reminds me of the trip I took to North Korea this year. Back in 2016, right around the time I was planning my trip this year (February), I was looking into tours to the country. I gave up on it pretty quickly, but at the back of my mind I knew I’d visit there eventually, and then almost by accident I found the hockey trip I ended up on. It’s a small coincidence, but it’s interesting to me.

Coincidences are really interesting, like when you think of someone you haven’t heard from in a long time and they call or message out of the blue.

I remember, from a few months ago, I had this dream about someone I’d never actually spoken to, but had gone to highschool with. She was a year or two older than I am, and I don’t think we had a single mutual friend. I can’t remember anything about the dream besides the fact that her likeness was in it. Anyway, I wake up the next day, get on with life, but I stopped at a coffee shop on the way to work that I rarely go to, and this chick is a barista there!

It was weird. There was another coincidence too, I think she became friends with one of my friends on Facebook that week and you know how that appears sometimes in the news feed? ‘This Person and That Person have Become Friends.’ And you can ‘Like it’ or ‘Comment’.

I saw it and I wanted to go back to the cafe and explain how hilarious and random it was, but I figured there was no world where that was an appropriate conversation and forgot about it until now.

I mean, it’s weird, right?

Untitled Blog Post

I’m starting to realize that I’m not a very good minimalist. I really want to be, but I have a lot of junk that I don’t want to get rid of. Like the polaroid camera and the typewriter that I got off of Craigslist. Or the old steel wheel from my bike, or all the notebooks I’ve collected over the years, mostly half empty and going back as far as my first semester at BCIT.

And I have so many books. I’m a serial-book-buyer. I love having them, and though I read a lot of them, there are stacks of books in the ‘to-be-read’ pile and maybe even more in the ‘started-but-never-finished’ pile. I have an especially serious issue buying books on philosophy, starting them, not understanding anything, and putting them away ‘to be finished later’ which so far generally means never.

But lately I’ve found that I’m not interested in anything. I haven’t found a good story in ages and I’m reading too much non-fiction. I think it’s making me crazy. All the stories I’m getting are from Netflix and that can’t be good. There are theories out there about television being a sort of anti-creativity, sucking the creative forces out of people and though I don’t know how accurate that is, it could help explain my writer’s block.

I went to visit my favourite bookstore this afternoon, Paperhound, which is downtown on Pender. They always have a little cart outside with one or two-dollar books and today I snagged a Kapuscinski. I couldn’t believe it, he’s probably my favourite writer–a (dead) Polish journalist who travelled all over the world reporting during the Cold War. I first got into him through The Shadow of the Sun and Shah of Shahs which are both great books, one about the last Shah of Iran and the other about his travels in Africa throughout his life.

I’ve picked up a lot of books off discount carts, and honestly, I’ve hardly finished a single one. But I’ll keep looking through them because once in a while you find a freaking Kapuscinski! What a great day.

One day I’d love to run a bookstore. Or maybe a little cafe. It’d be tiny, and I’d have all these great regulars who would come in, and sometimes we’d get a tourist who wouldn’t instinctively understand how we do things at the cafe and I’d just be really sassy towards him. We’d have a mix of online reviews, mostly positive, but a few would be really negative.

‘The old guy who made my coffee was such an asshole. I don’t know how he got the job. He made fun of my drink order to another customer, wouldn’t change the music when I asked (and it was awful, just a loop that sounded really freaky, like some really spooky shit, I’m not joking), scoffed when I gave him tips about how to make the perfect latte (you have to be able to take a critique in this business) and just gave me a ton of attitude. Would not recommend.’

‘What a dick! I went into Mark’s Cafe today and I can’t believe the way I was treated. First thing he does when I walk in is laugh in my face. He said, ‘Grown men don’t wear shorts.’ Okay buddy, it’s like thirty degrees out and I’ll wear whatever I want. Then he made fun of my shirt. When I asked for an iced coffee he sighed and took forever to get up off his stool. I paid with a credit card and when he pulled out the receipt he said, ‘What, no tip?’ No, I’m not tipping you for terrible service.

The ice coffee was really good though. Maybe one of the best I’ve ever had.’

That’s the dream.

Gardening For the Modern Man

I always come up with great titles for books but never get around to writing them. Gardening for the Modern Man is one I’ve had in my back pocket for a few years now. I really like it, and I imagine a man in a spacesuit planting vegetables on the moon for the cover. It’s all very much alive in my head.

The book wouldn’t necessarily be about gardening–at least it wouldn’t have to be. I had a vision of a collection of short stories first, then a kind of cheeky book of gardening tips with a really masculine tone (but I don’t actually know anything about gardening), then I thought maybe it would be a love story, but I think I’m back on the short-story-collection idea now.

I ordered a straight razor online last week. I’d been thinking about trying it for a while, but they’re a little expensive and the thought of sliding a knife across my face scared me a little. But it’s en route, I found a guy on reddit who gets older ones and does them up so that they’re good to go and ships them from New York State.

Lately I’ve been using a double-edged safety razor, which is a good segway to the straight razor, I figure. I always found that with the disposable BICs that my dad still uses, or the more expensive three or four blade pieces, I had razor burn on my neck. It’s too many blades!

Also, this is the first time I’ve had a tracking number for a package and though it’s nice to know where my razor is, it’s also kind of a pain. For instance, it’s been in Chicago since Wednesday night, and it ‘arrived’ at another Chicago facility twice on Thursday morning before being ‘Processed Through Facility’ THREE TIMES last night. I don’t need these gory details, I just want to shave.

Fridays are my Mondays, have I said that before? The weekend has a whole new meaning when you’re in the restaurant/bar/brewery tasting room business. It’s been interesting getting used to, because before I’d work weekends while I was in school during the week and I was just busy all the time. That was just how it had to be.

Now everyone else is excited to be off work for the week and I’m just starting. I’m not complaining, because I really like my schedule, but work is work. It’s nice that everyone is excited though, nothing’s worse than having depressed customers. I couldn’t imagine doing customer service in a role where people have to see you. Nobody comes to the brewery because they have to, right?

I imagine working at a bank is tough, or for a telecommunications company. You have to deal with all the stupid backwards policies that your company has and nobody is excited to come see you. It must be so demoralizing, and you don’t even make tips!

I’m really excited for a guaranteed minimum income because it’ll make it so that companies have to compensate people who work nasty jobs far more, because they won’t have to work. Will it complicate things? Probably. But in a good way.

When people are dependant on the meagre income from demoralizing work because that’s the way society is structured, maybe it’s a bad structure.

Questionable Miso Soup

I’m getting very close to launching the store, I think. I’ve got one solid mug design and I’ve seen some mock-ups that look good, so that’s a start, and I have a couple more ideas in the works. Now I just need to set up the store and lock in a supplier.

It’s exciting for me, but also terrifying. I might start advertising, or hanging around street corners with a sandwich board and a megaphone. And I’m going to have to jack up the quality of the blog too, because lets be honest, everything I write is nonsense.

I’ve found that sushi is a lot less enjoyable as a vegetarian. I still love it, because even the veggie rolls are good, but there’s no alternative to sashimi. Raw fish is really good and of all the things I’ve given up I think sushi and pho are the only ones I really miss.

Also, it’d be nice to have more options than veggie burgers when I’m out with friends. Having said that, some places do really good veggie burgers. Steamworks, for instance, does a great quinoa burger, and St. Augustine’s does a great veggie-patty.

While I’m at it, Meet in Gastown does some really cool vegan stuff too, but it’s all vegan, and I think that catches some people by surprise. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get into the fake-cheese mac and cheese, because I just don’t think cashew ‘cheez’ or nutritional yeast concoctions can replace the real thing. But it’s a good try.

The trick with being a vegetarian is to realize that you can’t just substitute everything with ‘alternatives’, you have to eat different stuff. There are so many tofu, soy, or ‘veggie’ fake-meats that it might feel like you don’t have to change your diet at all. You’ve got to dive into grains, explore the world of curries, high protein vegetables, nuts and seeds, and tofu as well.

It’s kind of like how you can’t expect sweet potatoes to be able to do the same things as regular potatoes, like make tasty hashbrowns. You have to play to a food’s strength, as I found out, when I kept setting up my sweet-potato-pan-fries to fail.

Bandidas is another good vegetarian spot. I went for the first time today and had the mexican breakfast. It’s a cool spot, and the water comes in mason jars which I really like, but I understand that some people see the mason-jar thing as a big hip stereotype. Well, I like it and it works. I’m just a simple (and very hip) man, I suppose. It’s on Commercial and the burritos are huge.

I like Commercial Drive a lot, and I hope it doesn’t get transformed into a sterile yuppie nightmare. There aren’t a lot of places in Vancouver that have an alternative feel like the drive. Everything there is small, it seems very inclusive (but I probably wouldn’t realize it if it wasn’t), and it’s got a down-to-earth sensibility. I’m curious to see what happens around there development-wise.

On Days Where You Eat A Lot of Bread

I think it was yesterday that I explored the fact that I generally only write in the morning, and if I wrote in the evening I’d probably talk a lot less about my breakfast. It’s the evening now and so far I’ve been staring at the blank page for a good half hour. But I didn’t once consider writing about my breakfast. So there you have it.

Master of None because is officially my favourite show. I burned through season two in a couple days and LOVED it. Season one was the best thing to happen to Netflix and maybe humanity ever, and season two is a thousand times better. I was so inspired by it that I spent a good hour earlier today watching Aziz on different talk shows.

He does a bit with Fallon where they read bad Yelp reviews (Aziz doing the business owner, and Jimmy doing the customer) which is pretty good. They also do one where they read bad romantic texts, those are good but also very sad.

Why do so many late night shows have a guy off to the side that just kind of chimes in here and there, basically like a hype man? Stephen Colbert has Jon Batiste and he just laughs and says stupid little nonsense from off camera.

The one Fallon has is actually pretty funny though. He has some good moments. I’d recommend “Hashtags: #MomQuotes”. It’s worth a watch. (Can’t believe I’m recommending YouTube clips from late night TV now).

I think I might introduce a fiction component to the website. I have a lot of stupid ideas for stories and I usually don’t ever do anything with them (and that’s when they even make it out of my mind and into a word document). I remember when I first started the blog years ago and I had two other ‘writers’: Esmeraldo, the surfer-poet in Santa Monica, and Mac Shekoda, a journalist from the future.

I had a lot of fun with those, and when I was living in Australia I even used the blog as a writing sample for a couple journalist jobs (looking back I can’t figure out why I would’ve thought that that was a good idea).

Anyway, it may have been a phone interview, I can’t remember, but I guess because I’m such a phenomenal character-creator the hiring-person reading my website thought that there actually were three writers at the website.

She gave me the weirdest sigh when I said that all three were me that it’s no surprise I didn’t end up with the job. Oh well.

I wonder what happened to the people who got the job instead of me, not just in that scenario, but all of them. Was I meant to be where I am right now, doing what I’m doing? Or did I just not try hard enough? Was I doomed from the start? These are some existential questions I’ll always think about, but they’re not productive.

It’d be interesting to see how those people are doing though. Are they still working in the radio stations that I applied to? The people who had a bit more experience and always edged me out, the college grad. Do they like it?

In the end, it’s kind of a waste of time though, isn’t it?