Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Eight Things

It had to happen sooner or later: Member of the blognoscente, all around smart guy and friend-of-the-blog Rob 'Tragic Lad' Clark tagged me with a blog meme.

Well, there are worse ways to kick-start blogging in the new year. So, without further ado...

Eight Things You Didn't Know About Me

I was almost an actor

I came out of high school having been a die-hard drama-club member. I had found friends, community, acceptance and a love of the theatre. I had a virulent case of the acting bug. Nothing, I once said, made me feel more alive than acting. Oh, one more thing: I was good.

I applied to every Canadian university with a decent theatre program (both of them) and got into York University.

Now, theatre students at York generalize for their first year, then specialize into streams. Some streams require an audition - including, needless to say, acting. I was accepted.

My short version - the cute anecdote version - is to say that I learned something very important in university: I learned that I didn't want to be an actor.

The longer version is that I didn't really fit into the acting program -- maybe I was too cerebral, maybe I just didn't get it -- and I wasn't asked back for third year. That by itself might not have been enough to stop me from acting, although it was a big blow to my confidence. But so many other things came up at the same time. There were personal and family crises that sapped my strength and focus and threw me into a pretty serious depression.

On the less-miserable side, it was also the time that Greg and I starting developing and writing Xeno's Arrow, which gave me a creative focus and outlet outside of acting.

Not being an actor may be one of the main reasons that I'm a writer.

My fifteen minutes may, in fact, already be up

I spent the summer of '93 living in Toronto in a basement apartment with some friends, scrambling from odd job to odd job. The phone sales jobs were lousy, didn't last and the less said about them the better.

But then I started getting work as an extra.

If you don't have a really expensive lifestyle, or too many responsibilities, being an extra is great. Decent hours at about minimum wage, but with free food and (because it's actually more economical to keep 100 extras waiting around than it is a small film crew, or 1 star) very little actual work. A lot of time is spent reading, playing cards, flirting - everything I would have been doing anyway, but for money and all the cheap coffee I could drink.

I didn't get work on anything that'll stand the test of time, but there is a movie where you can not only pick me out of the background, but wherein I actually fill the screen for a few seconds.

Yeah. PCU.

The scene I'm most clearly visible in - the one where my mug is front-and-centre on the screen, briefly but recognizably - was actually one of the funnier moments in the film (and I say that without pride, since it's not like I was "acting" or anything - I look like that because I was wicked hung over that day. So, thanks, Sean and Michelle!)

Not only that, but apparently that same scene was included in the theatrical trailer (on the "put all the good jokes in the previews" principle, I assume.)

So, here's a sobering thought: It's possible - it's likely! - that although PCU. was hardly a blockbuster, between the trailer and the movie itself, more people have seen me in it then ever have, or ever will, read everything I've written put together.

I have been way naked in public.

Yeah, it was a frosh week thing. You may have done this yourself, or heard of it - a competition called a "clothes line." Everybody splits up into teams, starts to get undressed, and lines up their clothes on the ground. Longest line wins.

Well, my team didn't win, but that wasn't for lack of trying on my part. I got down to my drawers. And I was thinking. Or rather, not really thinking. You know, frosh week is an exciting time, and you only get one chance to make a first impression, right?

So yes. I went All. The. Way.

And that was how most of the people in residence met me.

(Oh, bonus fact: Someone who is now a well-known Canadian comedian and TV star was on my team. But she only went as far as her skivvies. You know who you are...)

I have climbed the CN Tower

People who only met me before or after the time in my life that I was in shape probably don't know just how fit I actually was. The difference between "thin Stephen" and, uh, "not-quite-so-thin Stephen" is almost as dramatic as the difference between "thin Elvis" and "not-quite-so-thin Elvis." I was at the gym an average of five times a week, alternating between hard cardio and weights. I was never a super-cut, bo-hunky jock - I don't have the bone structure or the willpower to avoid fluids for days at a time - but I was fit.

How fit? One fine October day in 2002, I climbed the CN Tower.

Okay, I didn't free-hand scale the exterior or anything. The CN Tower Stair Climb is an annual charitable event in Toronto to benefit the United Way (there's another one that happens every spring that benefits the World Wildlife Fund). You sign up as an individual or as part of a company team, get donations and you climb the stairs from the ground floor to the Observation Deck of one of the tallest free-standing structures in the world.

How many steps is that? One thousand, seven hundred seventy-six.

Yeah, I was fit. While I'm all for supporting the United Way, I was mainly doing it as a symbol to myself - a symbol of progress and achievement. I had done a lot to lose weight, to make more active, more healthy, more fit.

Since then - years of stressful jobs and all the anxieties that go with parenthood - I've gotten pretty far out of shape again. But I still, once upon a time, climbed the freaking CN Tower. I know what I can do when I really try, really go for a goal. And now, my goal is to do it again. Maybe in the fall of this year, maybe in the Spring of 2009. But I've done it before, and I will do it again.

My time, by the way, was 18 minutes, 36 seconds.

I'm a fourth-generation writer

My parents were both newspaper reporters. My grandmother - my dad's mother - was also a reporter, and is still a working writer. Her father was an acclaimed journalist, historian, and novelist. There's a school named after him in Kent County.

So I'm in the fourth - currently, the least professionally successful, but I am continuing the legacy - generation in my family to make writing a vocation and a career.

That makes me unusual in my circle of friends - I never experienced growing up in one of those families where writing (or another creative pursuit) was considered impractical, exotic, or weird. Writing was just something people did.

The ink in my veins? It runs very deep.

I have seen the Greys

Like many of my fellow Gen-X-ish types, I went through a conspiracy theory phase. It was the zeitgeist, I guess. X-Files was on the air, and books and comics were all about "conspiracy chic."

The embarrassing part is that I managed to develop and nurture my obsession without the benefit of pot.

But yeah, I lapped that stuff up with a spoon. I didn't really believe there were Nazi UFO bases at the South Pole, or Satanist clones on the Moon, but it sure was fun to think about. And I did believe that governments were in league with the military-industrial complex to do horrible things. Which they are, but I took the obvious and true examples of such as proof of the esoteric, baroque, whacked-out shit.

I was widely read in the field. I thought about this stuff all the time.

And there came a time that I was working back-to-back double shifts at my horrible, stressful, crappy dead-end service job at the infamous Fun City. Back-to-back double shifts, for nearly two weeks. I wasn't sleeping much, or well. I was living on coffee and candy bars. And I was re-reading Communion to relax.

And there came a night that I saw them. The Greys. The little grey aliens with the big heads and eyes. The Zeta Reticulans.

Oh, just out of the corner of my eye, in the dark. I didn't think they'd taken me anywhere or, you know, done any probing. But I saw them.

And, fortunately, the rational part of my brain was strong enough - awake enough - to say, "Dude. That didn't actually happen. You need to calm down."

I went to bed. Got a good night's sleep. Went cold-turkey on conspiracy theories. Oh, and I read Foucault's Pendulum to deprogram myself.

I thank my lucky stars that the internet wasn't quite as ubiquitous in those days. If, instead of getting a good night's sleep, I had had the option of going online and "researching" what I'd just seen, I might have found some sort of validation for it. And that could have started me down the slippery slope to the Land of Tinfoil Hats.

As it was, I escaped unscathed, but with a keen understanding of just how closely we skate to the edge of the irrational, and a newfound skepticism that has served me well over the years.

I cried at the end of 'A.I.'

Actually, I wept. Like a baby.

I know. I know, okay? I'm not going to get into the details; they're very personal. I'm a good enough writer to know when I'm being gamed by the story, and I knew Spielberg was gaming me even as the tears were running down my cheeks.

I know. I know. You know what? I don't have to justify myself to you. Moving on...

I have calmed down a lot

I have a bit of a reputation - especially, and this is ironic, but understandable, among my dear friends who have known me for a long time - of being very verbally combative. Of delighting in debate and argument for their own sake. Of uncalled-for, pointless sarcasm - not necessarily wit, but sarcasm of megascovillean proportions. I could be freaking venemous, sometimes in the service of something I really believed in, but just as often as an intellectual exercise or to vent my emotions.

You know, I don't really have time for that crap anymore.

A lot has changed since my blistering-snark-at-the-drop-of-a-hat days. I'm older. I'm not an underemployed slacker anymore. I've kissed girls. I've developed a thicker skin. There are only so many hours in a day, and I don't even get to spend enough time doing important, fun and fulfilling stuff that makes me and other people feel good - why waste precious minutes being angry or making someone else feel bad?

Oh, I'm still sarcastic, no doubt about it. I still enjoy banter - in my circle, that tends to be how we roll. But I don't seek argument for its own sake. I try to have a sense of proportion. I avoid invective, even in discussions where I feel strongly about an issue.

I mean, who wants to be remembered - by their friends, let alone everyone else - as "that argumentative, sarcastic, kind of mean guy"?

Not me.

So yes. I have calmed down. A lot.

Thus endeth the epistle.

I actually doubt that anyone who doesn't know at least a couple of those things is following my blog. Conversely, anyone who knows all eight is probably married to me. Do let me know if anything you've read was genuinely a surprise, okay?

As per Rob's post, I'm going to tag some friends and fellow-bloggers in the hopes of passing the meme along. Let's see... who's blogging?

Okay, how 'bout Dilys, Tara, Rachel and Michael? And anyone else who feels inspired!


Anonymous said...

That was AWESOME, and I knew them all... uh, are we married now?


Unknown said...

I guess we are! Don't tell your husband.