Last year, I turned 24 and decided to share 24 things I learned in those years. If the reader will let me be self-indulgent again this year, I’m continuing on a similar theme and sharing 25 things for which I’m truly grateful as my 25th birthday approaches in a few weeks. These are really just the items that happened to occur to me as I wrote, but I suppose that makes them raw and honest. It grew quite a bit, so I’ll be splitting it into two parts. Here’s the first.
UPDATE: Part two can be read here.
A wise man once told me that cooking is one of the highest forms of lovemaking. A good meal appeals to all the senses and when you cook for someone – a friend, lover, family, anyone – they know that you’ve laboured to make them happy. Cooking and sitting down together for a meal is how we take care of one another. Cooking ensures that our loved ones’ basic nutritional needs are met, but also offers us time to come together to share in one another’s company. The most valuable thing that you can give someone is your time and when you cook for someone, you give them your time in creating a beautiful meal and in enjoying it with them.
The most obvious item on this list for anyone who knows me. Since I’ve started keeping this blog, I’ve written the equivalent of three books and the adrenaline rush I get from putting an idea onto the page is beyond words, even for someone as verbose as I can be. I am in full agreement with the late great Christopher Hitchens, who in his last days said, “My life is my writing before it’s anything. Because that’s who I am and my children come later and that’s what they’ve had to put up with.” I am happiest when I write, and if no one were to read my words – hardly anyone does as it is – that would be fine by me.
3. The Films of Quentin Tarantino
Films don’t just have to entertain us. They can challenge us, scare us, offend us, and thrill us in a way that causes us to lose sight of that reassuring mantra, “It’s just a movie.” This is what I learned when John Travolta drove that adrenaline shot into Uma Thurman’s chest and when Michael Madsen made sure that I would think of only one thing when I hear Stealers Wheel. Quentin Tarantino was and is the maverick filmmaker for my generation, the storyteller who made me fall in love with cinema.
His films were the gateway drug which have left me with an insatiable appetite for films that don’t just seek to entertain, but assault the viewer’s senses and sensibilities. Since developing this appetite in my teens, I’ve found and savoured Ingmar Bergman, Martin Scorsese, Luis Bunuel, Federico Fellini, Woody Allen, Terrence Malick, Roman Polanski, Werner Herzog, Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, and the Coen Brothers.
4. My Nieces
It simply doesn’t matter that I’m a grown man in a position of authority over my nieces. When a four year old tells you that she is going to comb your hair so that you can “look like a princess,” you kind of just have to go along with it. If anything, kids humble you. Any parent, uncle, aunt, or even older cousin or sibling, knows that when it comes to the young people in your life, you find yourself willing to work especially hard for their happiness or stoop to especially low levels for their amusement. They’ll even challenge you and ask questions about a Dr. Seuss story that never crossed your mind. Having been an uncle for almost five years now, I’m actually proud of myself for learning not to be so self-centred and put the lives of others ahead of my own.
Interestingly enough, it is the time that I spend in silence, utterly disconnected from the world around me, that allows me to become better connected to that world. My thoughts don’t really stop during this time, nor do I “clear my mind,” which many feel to be the goal of meditation. My mind is as rapid-fire as ever, but rather than trying to analyze every single emotion or thought and overthinking myself into exhaustion, I simply acknowledge them and continue breathing. To have learned the discipline required to sit in silence in a world filled with noise and built upon immediacy has made me more patient and understanding. Contemplation is the very antithesis of violence and confrontation and I’ve been needing an alternative to such things for some time.
6.The Sweet Science
It’s both so close and so far away, the time I fell in love with boxing. It was the night Mike Tyson made his comeback, fresh out of prison, against Peter McNeeley. It was the first night that my parents actually allowed me to stay up late as we gathered at my uncle’s apartment, two floors above our own, to watch the fight, which lasted all of 90 seconds. Even Grandma was there. It’s so far away in years, but so close because the big fights, even as boxing’s popularity is in a waning period, still burn beautiful memories into my psyche.
I was hooked. Intrigued that men were capable of defying our instinct to flee violence, instead walking directly into conflict with their heads held high. Enamoured with the simplicity of the sport’s objectives – hit, but don’t get hit. Fascinated with characters like Tyson, Don King, and Prince Naseem. In awe of the fighting heart of warriors like Erik Morales and of course my dearly departed countryman Arturo Gatti. They were the giants of my childhood and the fact that I still have centuries of the evolution of the fight game to explore – boxing is mentioned as far back as the Iliad, don’t you know? – makes me a happy fight fan.
7. The Toronto Public Library
My research centre, lab, teacher, therapist, priest, hallucinogenic drug, and vehicle for travel all wrapped into one and entirely free of charge. It is the only public service in the city of Toronto that has never failed me. During my youth, I had no access to expensive learning opportunities, but as far as I’m concerned, the treasure that is our public library puts me and still keeps me on equal footing with the wealthiest among us when it comes to learning and ideas. I struggle to remember my own phone number sometimes, but I can recite my library card number off the top of my head without issue.
8. All Day Breakfast
The very phrase “all day breakfast” is a slap in the face to the idea of set routines and that’s precisely what’s so wonderful about it. It has everything that’s good and bad for you. It usually happens on a Sunday, perhaps the only day where nothing is definitive and there’s no rush to anything and you are in control of what happens and when. Everything – talking, eating, and thinking – happens at a more leisurely pace and indulgence is welcomed. Yes, I’ll have another cup of coffee and can I get a few extra pieces of bacon with that?
It’s usually not planned. It happens because you call up a friend or a few and together you truly exercise free will, unhindered by the chains of every day life and obligations, and forget to count time and calories. Everything stops while you share what unfortunately might be the first meal in ages that you’ve savoured in all it’s greasy glory and in the solace of friends.
9. Girl Friends
Not girlfriends, mind you, but friends who happen to be girls. And I am not saying that female friends are superior to male friends, nor am I saying that either gender has distinct qualities that are present in all its members. Yes, most of my closest friends, for whatever reason, happen to be female. I’m not writing about an entire gender, but a small handful of incredible women that I happen to know, each of whom fills my days with joy, laughter, comfort, and resilience in the worst of times simply by being who they are.
They know who they are. The one who gave me my first shot out of school to begin building my career as a writer and is still a dream of a mentor. The one who pulled me across the Atlantic for the first time and taught me that it’s okay to dance and laugh, and as clichéd as it sounds, truly accepts me as I am. I can’t forget the one who seems to share my disillusionment with academics, but also shares with me boundless intellectual curiosity, a love of writing and literature, and is the perfect sounding board for my creative pursuits. Finally, my three partners in crime, who in a single breath will illuminate the injustices and idiocies of our world, make me laugh hysterically, and give me hope. There are more, but I could never do them all justice in only a few words.
10. Evenings at the Ballpark
Yes, baseball can be an incredibly slow game, especially for those who crave constant action. I prefer to think of it as meditation, a previous item on this list, as sport.The greatest tension is when nothing is happening, and no other sport has so many possible outcomes from a single move. Tension builds and builds with every play that could become something spectacular. An unanticipated defensive error that brings in a barrage of runs, a triple play that ends an inning in a single play, or perhaps a grand slam. Then again, a batter might just get walked. Baseball is not endless stimulation. It has an ebb and flow like a symphony where some moments are soothing and allow your mind to wander while others assault your heart rate and blood pressure. Your mind and body take a journey with the game.
Growing up in Toronto, it was not just about the game. It was the journey downtown, the open roof of the SkyDome leaving you exposed to the beautiful evening wind in the summer, and heckling the Yankees bench.
11. My Legs
They are not pretty, believe me. Aesthetics, however, don’t play much of a role in the life of someone as low maintenance as I am. What matters is form and function and I can say with the utmost pride that my legs have never given out on me. When going out with friends, I am the first to suggest that we walk to our destination, even if the walk might be as much as an hour. Stairs do not deter me because of the strength built into my legs, which have taken me to the top of the Pantheon in Paris and the famous Belfry of Bruges. When I’m creatively stuck, an hour or so wandering the neighbourhood usually does the trick and sets my mind moving again. Finally, as I’ve documented previously, running is my obsession and elevates me to god-like status as far as I’m concerned.
12. Mom and Pops
They’ll be angry enough that they weren’t at the very top of the list, so the least I can do is include them in the first part. They do not talk at me, they talk to me and with me. They do not ask of me perfection or that I attain fame or prestige in life, merely that I am happy, decent and compassionate toward others, and self-sufficient. My record on actually meeting those standards is admittedly mixed, but their unrelenting belief that I could be all of those things when I felt I couldn’t is why I can sit here and write this list and why I can continue finding new things for which to be grateful each day.