2019

Remember that lazy river that I described 2013 as? The unpleasantly tepid, overlong journey that led to absolutely nowhere? In 2019 I was once again thrown into this river, only to find that it had been filled with gallons of thick grey sludge. I spent months mired in this toxic stew, doing little more than waiting for things. Waiting for replies, waiting for developments, waiting for life to happen.

What I’m trying to say is that very little actually transpired during 2019. If I were to write strictly about actual events of note over the course of the year, this post would be about a paragraph long. The situation gets even more dire if I were to distill the year’s events to what I could comfortably talk about with acquaintances. If I were to ever actually attend a dinner party and someone turned to me with a mouthful of potatoes saying “So young man, what did you accomplish in the first half of 2019?”, my response would amount to little more than “I worked.”

Which is why I’ve already spent two whole paragraphs delivering not a single bit of factual information, only metaphors and conjecture. Gotta fill up all this cyberspace with something.

So the bulk of this final retrospective of the decade will be about the inner journey I went through over the course of the year, and how it was a journey that I didn’t even realize I embarked on until I was well into it.

I spent the earliest hours of 2019 at work in GNR640’s control room, in the middle of an unprecedented streak of workdays stretching well into February. With so little staff I was the go-to guy for content production, which meant all the guest hosts at the station were relying on me to chase the best interviewees…or whoever was available. After the holidays were over I continued to content produce for one of the prime time shows, which is where the first misadventure of 2019 began.

Already weary and worn out due to working straight through the holiday break, I was not on the top of my game producing for a very demanding show with a difficult host. The environment, the content, and the hours were all incredibly draining and left me with precisely two hours a day for myself. I would move to the technical side of things after the first week of January, which was even more stressful. Trapped in a studio with such high tension every single evening made my skin feel like there was electricity running through it.

Three weeks in I was at the control board when an email from my boss popped up containing the schedules for the next month, with myself firmly set in the same shift into the middle of February. Up until this point I’d been doubting myself, thinking that maybe it was me, that I couldn’t handle the pressures of the industry. Perhaps that was true, but I wasn’t about the test the limits of my breaking point. I spoke to my boss about the toxicity of the environment and was relieved to find out that many people had notified him about it and he would not just deal with the issues, but switched me out of that shift.

Life outside of work wasn’t much better. Towards the end of 2018 I’d gotten in touch a few times with Midday Host’s former intern Abby. As you can probably guess, these liaisons led to feelings on my end. The usual. She seemed interested, worked with me on videos, messaged me often, then stopped after a few weeks. It was the most run-of-the-mill heartbreak I’ve been through, almost cliched in the way it played out so predictably in such a short amount of time.

February began with some minor developments at work: I was assigned to be the executive producer of GNR640’s weekend programming. All the client shows were now under my jurisdiction. I edited more band footage as well, and found a new video partner in Classic Chan.

I found myself slowly becoming less enthusiastic about going to concerts though. The routine was stale and bands no longer excited me. I was constantly checking my watch during each show, wanting to leave as soon as possible. It was never soon enough, and the curse of missing my train by one minute after every single concert continued.

While we’re on the topic of curses, I’d like to talk about Valentine’s Day 2019. There was no horrendous rejection or grand heartbreak this year, no. I had already gotten over Abby and there was nobody else on the radar. Instead I had to venture to the suburbs for an impromptu show at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts.

The nostalgia of walking past so many places from different parts of my life nearly took me down. It was like a slideshow of painful memories from years past, all connected through a strange new route that just happened to link them all together. Thoughts of my time at Rogers, of meeting with Selene at the coffee shop, of walking down the street from the costume shop in my university days all stitched together. An eerie sensation hung over me on the bus ride home, as if every bad moment from the past decade and beyond clung to me.

A few days later everyone disappeared. I won’t bother naming names because it was essentially everyone I’ve written about in these retrospectives. They all vanished from social media and stopped responding to me completely. Some due to entirely valid and personal reasons, as I found out. Some for totally unknown reasons. Whatever the respective situations were, the outcome was that I was left with nobody to talk to, at all. Day in day out, nobody reached out. It was during these next few months that my mind was irrevocably changed.

Every day I would wake up and check my phone for any sort of reply or message from anyone, only to find nothing. I’d be waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting and nothing would come. I would get increasingly distressed throughout the day, going to bed mentally and emotionally exhausted. The next day, repeat the cycle and my wear down my mind even more. Work would act as a salve, but the rare days off felt interminable.

A day off would go exactly like this: sleep until noon, wake up on a tear-stained pillow after crying in my sleep due to traumatic dreams, check work email, check social media, eat, watch some old videos of my dog, take a nap, wake up, take a walk outside, eat, sit around and watch the clock, go to sleep at 9:00pm.

Life had won and taken nearly everything from me. I was in hell. It was like I had perished in a video game and the screen said GAME OVER, but nobody was there to hit the restart button. I spent every waking moment researching alternate universes, fantasizing about some faraway reality where my life hadn’t careened off the track. I was living entirely in memories of better times. As the months passed my concept of purpose was fundamentally altered. I didn’t “do” anything. Nothing in the present day brought me joy; I was just existing for the sake of existing without any plan for the future.

In a desperate attempt to stop myself from becoming fully embittered I tried to add some sort of change to my life. Instead of just going on long walks around the city or the wilderness I started to do things that normal people would do with friends or partners. I ate more often at restaurants I’d always wanted to try. I went to events and movies by myself. And you know what, in a tiny way, it helped.

Work also helped. I got to produce GNR640’s flagship show and did a pretty decent job, which boosted my self-esteem a little. I had a solid run of videos with my coworkers, and in addition to Classic Chan I found a new friend in SciFi, a producer at GNR640 who was endlessly supportive of my ideas.

Then there was one day towards the end of April that was filled with the tiniest of victories that buoyed me just a little bit.

  • I began the day by successfully evading the parking ticket inspectors at the train station and managed to peal into a spot after free parking was permitted, just barely making it on the train.
  • The train ticket machine was broken and the ticket inspector was aboard the coach, unfairly handing out fines left and right to all the unfortunate commuters who had boarded. Before he got to me though, we had reached the next station and I scanned my pass at the machine there and evaded a fine.
  • But the most triumphant of victories was during a concert that night. Once again the universe had lined up the pieces so that I would miss my train by one minute. It was so ridiculous that I refused to accept it. Instead of taking the subway from Broadview to Union, I switched to the other line and took it up to Downsview Park, bolting up the stairs and making it on that same train as it made the stop there. It was the most insignificant of victories, but it made me feel so great. Three times I had beaten life at its own game and could confidently flip it off.

That kind of day can only take you so far, and May dragged me right back down with its banality. My birthday was as always a nightmare that reminded me how little I mattered to the world at large, and this year it ended up being the final straw. I had become so raw and agitated after months of no socializing that I developed a dozen different physical symptoms. My bones ached, my complexion suffered, my thinking became erratic, and I had constant tremors in my hands. One night the tremors were so bad that I accidentally smashed a drinking glass, and I knew I needed help.

I’ve done therapy and medication, neither of which provided long term benefits. So in mid-May I went to the doctor and showed them how ravaged I was from stress, after which I promptly started bilateral ECT treatments.

On the plus side, I calmed down. The physical symptoms went away over the course of the treatments, and I no longer felt quite as hopeless as I had. There were side-effects, of course. I was incredibly disoriented after every session, and my vision would often blur. And my prized memory, the one thing I like most about myself, began to fail me. Names of my favorite songs would escape me, as would coworker’s names- things I never ever used to forget.

Those were necessary sacrifices, if only to stop the constant despair that kept flaring up. I mercifully returned to a state of cloudy indifference, bereft of any emotion.

Concerts were even less appealing now though- Death Cab and Vampire Weekend were both completely uninteresting to me. I doubt that I would have enjoyed The Strokes in any state, though- their show at Budweiser Stage was one of the worst I’ve ever seen in my life.

As with every other Canadian, there was one thing that sparked the smallest of flames in my heart, and that was the Toronto Raptors’ championship run. I became a total basketball head, despite not having access to any of the televised games. I’d keep tabs on scores instead by refreshing Google, people live-tweeting, and neighbours yelling outside. The one game that I did watch live happened to be…the final game. From outside Scotiabank Arena. I got to experience that historic moment in person, and then due to some coincidences and twists of fate, got to experience another historic moment when I ended up at the front of the crowd at the Championship parade.

I got to talk about this parade and many other things on the air when I settled into a stable role as the technical producer for the afternoon shows at GNR640. The host was Mr. Entertainment, who had been added to the roster earlier in the year. An eminently likable personality, he was intrigued by me and my creative ventures, no doubt bolstered by his content producer’s kind words about me. That content producer was SciFi, who I worked with more than anyone else at the station in 2019. Her constant pep talks and positive affirmations eased me back into social interactions, and along with Mr. Entertainment we became a fantastic team.

I burst from under the surface of the sludge river and took in a deep breath of fresh air.

From mid-June onwards things got a little better. I was in a positive environment and got to flourish socially and creatively. This was a good place filled with good vibes and I began to thrive rather than just survive. And I got to talk on the air so much.

So I was legitimately in a good mood when I went to see the new Spiderman movie. Sitting in the theatre by myself, I felt at peace when my phone buzzed. In blatant disrespect of theatre rules I checked who was texted me, and it turned out to be Sierra, my friend of many years. She wanted to meet up the following day, which I agreed to with zero expectation of actually meeting her. Over the years we’d made plans over and over which never came to fruition, often being cancelled the day of or the hour before our plans. The only time I ever actually saw her would be briefly when I dropped off tickets or swag from the Edge. In fact I had barely even heard from her in recent years, which was understandable with her being engaged and everything. So I said “yeah sure”, then sat back and enjoyed the movie.

The next day there was no “I’m sorry” text. I kept anticipating it as the hour drew closer but my phone stayed quiet. I drove over to the restaurant and still nothing. “Come on,” I thought to myself, “This is getting ridiculous. Now I’m gonna sit here and have to drive back.”

I did end up getting another text- “I’m here 🙂 “

There I was. For real. Having a drink with the one and only (and now single) Sierra. The friend who I’d known for almost a decade. The one which the character in my comic is loosely based upon. The one I’d never been able to meet with.

Things went well, and we met up again, and again, and again over the course of the summer. She texted me regularly and showed interest in my life and oh my gosh no way…could Sierra actually like me??

I started to get real nervous. Life was actually being kind to me- there was no way this could keep up. There was no way that of all the girls I’d ever been interested in, Sierra would be the one who would actually want to date me. Any day now she would stop talking to me and everything would go back to status quo.

We kept meeting into September, and I knew that I had to make a move quickly. Life again acceded and made it easy for me. Dropping her off at her house one night, I said good night and watched as she left my car and went towards her front door. She turned back to me, and the look in her eyes was unlike one I’d ever gotten from anyone before. It was that smoky glance that only models in eyelash commercials give, a semi-bashful look that forced me to park at the side of the road, get out of the car, and point blank say “Hey, I’d like to take you out on a date”.

“I’d really like that.”

Don’t get me wrong, it was a revolutionary moment- but not too much changed after that. We took walks around at night, went to a Bon Iver concert, watched movies together, but our rapport was as if I’d never made the move.

Mid-October brought some frustration. I dropped her off one Sunday, said goodnight….and then didn’t get her usual goodnight text. I sent one….no reply. I panicked. I knew this night. This was a night I’d lived through a thousand times over. It was the night when things ended. A night I thought I’d mitigated by making my intentions clear.

No message came that night, or that week. We were supposed to meet at another concert that Thursday, but I didn’t see her that night either.

Luckily a few days later she got back to me and we met again as usual, the radio silence a blip in our communication.

It was November 3rd. Sierra and I had plans for a nature walk later in the day, but first I had to get through a 5:00am start time. It was a draining shift, and thanks to Daylight Saving Time the sunset that day was at 5:00pm. Our plans for a walk were dashed, but we decided to meet for the usual anyway. Something clicked that night, and when I dropped her off I knew what I had to do. We said goodnight, she left my car, and it was pure cinema after that.

I stopped the car and got out, walking around the back towards her.

“Sierra, listen, I know I suck at expressing my emotions, so just bear with-“

She grabbed my face and kissed me. On the mouth. Once, and then again, and then a few more times. I was making out with a girl. A girl who I’d known for a decade, who started as a friend. This was literally my dream come true, everything I’d ever wanted my whole life. For the first time in years I was fully and completely happy.

“That was a long time coming,” she said before we parted.

And I got even happier.

Work changed that a bit. Due to some restructuring I was taken off the afternoon show and, of all possible choices, put back on the bad show from earlier in the year. The bad show. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as it had been in January due to the much thicker skin I’d grown since then, and I did still get a few shifts with SciFi and Mr. Entertainment, but the nonstop fun times were over. Except for the one absolutely insane day when I had to produce two shows back to back while giving tours to college students and recording an interview with The Bachelor Canada…bachelor. It was chaotic and challenging, but rewarding.

A job listing went up on the company’s website in November. It was a video development job, the same job that I’d applied for and subsequently denied in 2017, which would later force me to take the GNR640 job. On a whim I applied for it, and was almost immediately offered it. It was handed to me on a platter. I couldn’t believe it, and slowly realized that this was a pivotal moment. This was a leap of faith into the unknown. On the one hand, this was my dream job. I would be able to make videos for money – a lot of money. But I’d be giving up all the colleagues I’d made at GNR640, the same ones who had helped me through the tough times over the past few years. I decided to take the leap. For myself, and for Sierra.

I saw her four more times after our first kiss, each time better than the last. The last was the night before I started my new job, after which she vanished. Ghosted. Stonewalled me. Whatever you want to call it, she was gone and did not reply to me for the rest of the year.

...and I plunged back into the river of sludge.

To say that the transition into my new role was turbulent would be an understatement. It was an entirely new paradigm that I wasn’t used to, a completely new structure with differences that went beyond my daily responsibilities. I had to get used to self-motivation, of creating my own tasks and deadlines. This was the first time in my life I had a job that let me off the leash, and for about two weeks I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing.

Focusing was difficult. My mind kept drifting to Sierra, wondering why she’d just abandoned me so abruptly, without explanation, and at such an inopportune time. This was when I needed someone to talk to, to unwind with. Especially now that I was cooped up in a corner next to the inane chatter of the TV quadrant, a crew of basics so dumb and loud I would keep my headphones on for the entire eight hours each day.

It wasn’t all bad. I continued to gain recognition not just within the building, but within the entire company and beyond. The Vice President of the company tweeted congratulations at me. My work was consistently shown off in emails to the entire staff. I was regularly encouraged to do what I want and take all the creative risks I wanted. I slowly developed my own routine and effectively became a producer for different web series for each host I worked with. One of those hosts being the Edge’s Midday Host, who really wanted to get back in my good books now that I was part of the core team.

There were some good days. There was a Toy Drive and a shoot at the mall that were both fun. The common denominators? A break from routine and a chance to talk to people. Something I sorely missed from the GNR640 days, when my schedule was wildly unpredictable and I had no idea what I’d be doing or who I’d be talking with the next day. It was so ironic that the job I’d wanted so bad a few years ago would pale in comparison to the one I took as a stopgap measure.

There were also especially bad days, like the day I had to travel to Ajax in an ice storm and I shut my car door on my thumb, bleeding profusely everywhere.

Weekends. Something I hadn’t had for eleven years. The idea of having a day off…and then another day off immediately after that first day….confounding. Also depressing, because I had nothing to do and nobody to talk to. My daily routine returned to what it was earlier in the year, mostly just staring at the wall and wishing for it to get dark so I could go to sleep.

My sister came back from England, which helped things a little, because at least I had someone to talk to for a bit. Christmastime was absolutely brutal though. All the plans I’d made for Sierra and myself obviously didn’t happen, and walking around the city while doing my Christmas shopping was devastating. The nostalgia was so bad I wanted to vomit. Every street corner, every storefront reminded me of past heartbreaks, rejection, good times, bad times, and long forgotten connections from the past ten years. I couldn’t handle it, and there was one day where I, a firm believer in walking as much as possible, took the subway for two stops because the bad memories of walking past certain places would have ripped a hole in me.

Sadness came to punish me regardless of my crafty avoidance, and not one person sent me a Christmas text. Despite my recent success I still didn’t matter to anyone personally. And I realized I had to face my pain head on.

After work on New Year’s Eve I embarked on a tour of every significant place in the city over the past decade: music venues, stores, landmarks, or just stretches along the waterfront. I went to them and I listened to songs attached to those memories and I remembered everything. All the failures, all the pain, all the people who had now excised me from their lives. For six hours I let the sadness grow and grow, realizing how rare genuine joy was in my life and how much of the past ten years I’d spent miserable. It was a living nightmare, and it broke me.

People around the city celebrated as a decade wrapped up, keeping warm in each other’s company as the countdown started and a new year began. Miles away, I sat in my car, covered in sweat and tears, dialing a number on the sign affixed to the fence in front of the train tracks.

“Please, I need your help.”