One hundred and eighty-five PART TWO

I made it through Out of My Comfort Zone month!

I still can’t believe I made it through this month and half way through my year.  There have been many ups and downs and I’m so proud of myself and thankful to everyone who has helped me.  This month has seen me do everything from be naked to wear a diaper.  I’ve seen an increase in my readers – with my post about me dressing as a hussy in Yorkville getting 969 views in one day (not quite the 1000 in a day that is my goal, but close)!  I’ve hated and I’ve loved this month, and although I’m glad it’s over, I’m so happy I tried everything that I did (yes, even the disturbing experience of  the porn cinema).

Recap of the month

I have done so many things this month that challenged and scared me, but ultimately taught me a lot.  Here are the ways I put myself out of my comfort zone: lunch with a stranger; karaoke; lying; nude photo shoot; Chinatown mystery foods; meeting the parents; birthing videos; writing a stand-up comedy routine; nudist at home; “dress like a total hussy” while shopping and having lunch in Yorkville; bar hopping – solo; eating pig’s feet, beef tripe and tongue; fake nails; porn cinema; STI tests; Holiday Luncheon Meat; dress like a “total bum” while shopping and having lunch in Yorkville; goth bar; eating eel; sleeping in a creepy cabin alone in the woods; swimming alone in the lake; saying hello to my everyone on the street in Parkdale; clothing optional beach; brazilian wax; wearing a diaper; trip to the swingers club Wicked; radical honesty; Fan Expo – comic, horror, anime, sci fi, and gaming convention; blind; “attend an event in a language you don’t know”; panhandling.

What did I learn?

This was one of the hardest months for me, but also challenged me the most (and was very entertaining to read I have heard).  I found it incredibly difficult to beg for money, everything to do with stand-up comedy (I spent a lot of the month stressed about trying to be funny enough for stand-up and relying on the amazing Peter Cianfarani to help me through it), entering the world of the adult porn cinema, and pretty much anything that made me the centre of attention (karaoke, nudity, and dressing like a hussy in Yorkville).

However, it did get easier as the month progressed.  I became more confident in myself and therefore it became harder to put myself out of my comfort zone.  As the end of the month neared, I was more willing to jump in and try pretty much anything out.  I knew that things are usually worse in my imagination than they are in real life (with the exception of the porn cinema – way worse than my wildest imagination), and that I would survive the task and be a more informed person for doing it.

I also became more observant, noticing more of other people’s reactions now than I used to, and taking the time to pay attention to them.  Surprisingly to me, people are generally friendly and helpful (not always, but more than I would have guessed).  I always though Torontonians tended to keep to themselves, but I had the help of so many strangers to make this month work – even when they didn’t know they were helping me.

Where do I go from here with Out of My Comfort Zone?

There were quite a few suggestions of things that I didn’t get around to and want to try.  Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Do one thing every day that scares you”.  Pushing myself to do these things that are difficult for me have opened my mind and I want to continue to try things out of my comfort zone.  Maybe not every day, but as much as I can.  Here are some of my favourite suggestions of things I should do (thanks everyone for your input):

  • So many things to do with heights that I didn’t get a chance to do – bungee jump, sky dive, introductory flight lesson (flying a plane), CN Tower walk.  Unfortunately all of these cost more money than I can afford right now, but I will one day try them.  Perhaps when I sell my book…
  • A friend of mine volunteers to transcribe feminist porn for the hearing-impaired.  I am fascinated by what you actually transcribe.  Moans?  Grunts?  Just talking?
  • Shoot a gun or a bow and arrow (at a target, not at another living being).
  • Be silent for a day (although I still not sure this is possible for me).
  • Audition for the opera – OK, this one might not actually happen, but I love the suggestion.
  • Slam poetry.
  • Confront a grudge (I have one major grudge in my life and I am thinking of confronting it so I can let it go).
  • Tell someone you truly love them (the romantic in me loves this suggestion).
  • Piercings and tattoos
  • Enter into a “learning” discussion with someone who has an opposing view than yourself on a topic. Try to learn something from their point of view, rather than from a perspective of a debate.
  • Drop into and attend a class at the university in a subject you don’t know much about….just sneak in and sit in a chair…see what happens! (I really want to do this)
  • All day you do all those things that are considered rude and everyone does them, just alone or the privacy of their own home.  Like Fart, Burp, pick your nose, pick a wedgie, spit, whatever.  And not apologize for it.  (I don’t actually want to do this, but this comes from my friend Sarah who lives in Shanghai and in China it is completely normal to do all these things in public).
  • Reg Hart Cineforum – a man has a cinema in his basement and invites the public in.  Intriguing, but sort of weird.

I also haven’t had the opportunity to do my stand-up comedy routine that I’ve been working really hard on (although I’ve hated it – breaking through my issues with my own funniness has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do this month).  I couldn’t get a space in an open mic night/comedy club, so am booking one for when I get back from my trip (probably some time in October).  I will be posting my attempt at being humorous onstage then.

A change in the months

There is a change in what I am doing the months ahead, due to the unpredictability of life and my adventurous side.  I am driving a friend across Canada, from Toronto to Vancouver, to help him move to BC – leaving September 9th and flying back three weeks later.  I am driving his truck, he is driving his motorcycle, we are communicating via headset (so cool).  I have always wanted to drive across our beautiful country and when this opportunity arose, I couldn’t pass it up. September was supposed to be Vegan month, but I’ve decided to move this to October because of health reasons (it will be too hard to eat properly and be vegan in the small towns) but also because I think First Kiss Interviews will be more fun to do on the road.  I will be  interviewing one person a day as I drive through Brandon, Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat, and all the other towns we’ll stop in.  I’ll get to meet some interesting people and you can read stories of people across Central/Western Canada.  So tomorrow begins my First Kiss Interviews.

October will now be Vegan for the Month and January (which used to be First Kiss Interviews) will now be Life at the Poverty Line (I think fitting as I’m sure there will be many people who spent too much money on Christmas wanting some tips on how to live life cheaply).  

One hundred and eighty-five PART ONE

Begging for money (and Making it through Out of My Comfort Zone Month!) – PART ONE 

I kept putting this one off.  This is beyond out of my comfort zone.  I was taught as a kid to work really hard, save money and only ask for help when you really need it.  I worked full-time while doing a full-time Honours Bachelor of Arts.  When I wanted to take my grad degree in Australia, I worked two jobs, seven days a week for a year so I could afford to go.  The thought of asking someone for money makes my skin crawl.  But so many people suggested I do this to put myself in the place of what it is to be homeless, that I knew I had to.

It was one of the most difficult things I tried to do this month and I felt horrible doing it.  I tried to approach people for money, but I just couldn’t.  I asked one lady for change for the phone.  But that’s as far as I could get.  I just couldn’t do it.  I felt so degraded and sad.  I tried sitting down with a bag in front of me, but I don’t look homeless.  Maybe if I had brought a sign…

I walked the streets for an hour in search of panhandlers to sit with.  There weren’t too many people begging in downtown Toronto on a Wednesday afternoon – a few street performers, some homeless people sleeping on park benches, and a couple of different men sitting with signs in front of them.  I gave everyone money and spoke to some of them.

I observed one man without a leg and a sign that read “please help an amputee”.  It was interesting how the people who were obviously rich gave no money and ignored the man, like he was a piece of dirt on the sidewalk.  The people who were middle to lower class and workers were the ones who gave money and stopped to smile at him.

He was from somewhere in Eastern Europe, but spoke very clear English and was obviously an educated man who had lost his leg.  I asked him if he could make a living sitting with his sign on Yonge Street.  He said he needs $500 more a month to pay for housing and food in order to have a permanent residence.  He can’t get disability or a job until he has an address and he can’t get an address until he has disability.  It’s a catch 22.  Therefore he begs to try to get enough money to find a permanent home so he can sort out his life.

It’s interesting how everyone has a story and how sometimes circumstances in life can turn in the wrong direction to make you end up somewhere you don’t want to be.  There are those homeless people begging who are on drugs and try to get change from you while you’re coming off the highway in your car.  I met one man who made the choice to live on the streets because he liked the lack of rules.  And there are those like the man who I speak to frequently at the end of my street who is mentally ill and wanders around begging for cigarettes.  But, there are those like the man above whose life has gone in a bad direction out of his control and he is trying to fix it.

I admit I get frustrated with those people who don’t work and ask me for change when they choose to be homeless.  But this experience made me realize that you really do have to hit rock bottom to get to the point where you need to beg people for money.  Getting out of that downward cycle is hard, and a little boost like money or food would make a world of difference in their lives.

PART TWO – “Making it through Out of My Comfort Zone” (and an intro to what I’m doing this month) will be posted later this evening.

One hundred and eighty-four

“Attend an event in a language you don’t know”

I’ve been wanting to do this since a friend of mine suggested it to me at the beginning of the month.  It turns out it is pretty difficult to find an event in a language you don’t know in Toronto, when you don’t know the language or the community or where to find out about events.  Films in cinemas have English subtitles, cultural events celebrating different countries are in both English and the other language (unless it’s specific to that community, but then they don’t often advertise outside of their community).  I can wander around Chinatown or Little Portugal and listen to the language, but if I speak English, they will speak English back to me.  I should have just invited myself over to a friend’s family’s house where they speak a different language at home and make them speak only in that language to me.

Lithuanian Romeo and Juliet by OKT/Vilnius City Theatre at the Melbourne International Arts Festival

Traveling the world in my twenties I came across quite a few instances when I didn’t speak the language and had to communicate through body language or figure things out on my own.  You adapt quickly to certain words or ways of saying things so you can get by.  I remember sitting in a theatre in Prague for my 25th birthday, watching a play in Czech which I didn’t understand one word of, but understanding some of it through the movement (although, I’m still not quite sure why the whole audience stood up and sang at the end).  One of my favourite plays ever was Romeo and Juliet by OKT/Vilnius City Theatre at the Melbourne International Arts Festival – all in Lithuanian.  It was set in the kitchens of rival pizzerias with such amazing visual imagery, it didn’t matter what the words were (although I do know the story of Romeo and Juliet already, so that helped).

Entering into a world where you can’t communicate orally definitely puts you off balance.  Opposite from my experiment yesterday, I am relying almost completely on my sight to understand.

As I couldn’t find a cultural event in a different language, and had already written about Chinatown a couple of times this month, I decided to watch Cinema Paradiso – in Italian, no subtitles.  It was a beautiful film and I think I figured out quite a bit of the plot without language, but there were subtleties of the story I didn’t completely get.  I wanted to know what advice the older film operator was telling his younger protégé.  I needed to understand why his mother was so mad at him.  Was it the film like I thought?  Or the burning photo like my companion thought?  Sometimes I forgot it was in a different language and was caught up in the visual story.  But sometimes I felt like I was trying hard, but didn’t quite grasp it all.

Everyone should at one point watch a film in a foreign language without subtitles, spend a day around people speaking another language, or try to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak what you speak.  It’ll give a bit more perspective to what it’s like for immigrants moving to a foreign land and trying to get by surrounded by something that sounds like gibberish.  It can be really frustrating and lonely.

One hundred and eighty-three

It is a day of celebration today – I am half-way through my year!!!!  I can’t even believe it.  I remember being at three months and thinking how long a year really is.  And now I’m half way!  Thank you to everyone who has supported me and my crazy adventures so far.

Blind 

Do my clothes match?  I almost dropped a knife on my toe.  Is my bum clean?  How can I tell without seeing the toilet paper?  Why did I turn on the bathroom light? I hope I took my multivitamin and not the drowsy extra-strength allergy medication I had left-over from my bug bite fiasco.  I have a bruise developping on my thigh from walking into the table.   I might have just shampooed with conditioner.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon blindfolded and tried to live my life as I would normally – but without the use of my sight.  According to a 2006 survey by Statistics Canada, over 800,000 people in Canada identify with having a seeing disability (from visionhealth.ca).

Life without being able to see was very difficult for me.  I take for granted how much I use my sight.  I rely on my visual sense to get through my day – from big things like not walking into walls, to little things like where I placed my water glass on the table so I don’t knock it over.  My other senses became heightened – touch was very important, as well as smell and sound. I used my visual memory to try and find things that I needed.  It became more and more important that I put things back in the same place so I could find them again.

I was a little disoriented at times when I was walking around my apartment and out on to the balcony.  I had to pay attention to remember where I was.  Everything took longer (although it was surprising how quickly I began to adapt).  I noticed more – the taste of bread as it entered my mouth, the sound of the traffic outside the window, the smell of different rooms.  The number of things in a row became important – two cupboards over is where I find the plates, the fourth button down on the remote control turns on the television (discovered by trial and error).

Making a cheese sandwich in the toaster oven was an ordeal.  I wore an oven mitt so I wouldn’t burn myself, but I know I was getting cheese all over it.  Cutting the slices of cheese became a dangerous task – is the cheese mouldy, how do I cut thin slices when I can’t see them and don’t want my fingers getting in the way of the knife, so can’t feel it?  Then I missed trying to put the sandwich on a plate and ended up with melted cheese on the countertop.  Although it did taste great!

The notes I took while blindfolded

Communication was difficult – with no way to use my phone, e-mail, the internet, texting.  Unless someone called me, I couldn’t get ahold of my friends or family.  And I had no sense of time.  At one point I just sat down on my bed, frustrated with the effort, not knowing what I could do (tv wasn’t great as I wanted to see what they were talking about, and everything I normally do involves sight – internet, writing, reading).  Sometimes I couldn’t remember where I put things.  Did I move that table behind the sofa or is it still there? Did I put the salt on the right or the left side of the cabinet?

I was happy when I got to take off my blindfold and use my sight again.  Everything just seemed easier.  I can only imagine the skills people who are seeing impaired have to maneuver our world.  I didn’t even leave the house and I found it challenging.

One hundred and eighty-two

Fan Expo

I almost walk straight into Chewbacca getting his photo taken with a teenager in jeans and a Star Wars t-shirt.  I turn the corner and a Storm Trouper, some sort of alien (I should probably know who this is, but my knowledge of sci fi is limited) and a guy in black with a gun (again, no idea who he is supposed to be) are chatting together.  A group of giggling teenage girls run by me looking like dolls, with big pastel-coloured dresses, curly wigs with bows on top (a Japanese fashion trend I now know is called Lolita and is somehow connected to anime).  And this is all in the hallway outside of the Expo!

Man taking an up-close photo of one of the Lolita girls

Yesterday I entered a world of comic books, anime, sci fi, video gaming, and horror at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.  Fan Expo, celebrating its 17th year, is a weekend-long celebration of these five genres through: meeting celebrities and getting photos and autographs (you have to pay extra for those); shopping through the sixteen aisles of retailers; checking out and purchasing art from Artist Alley; trying new video games; listening to celebrities speak; wearing costumes (although using a Austin Powers costume as an excuse to perve on all the girls is a little unacceptable); taking workshops on Special FX, among other things; meeting fellow ‘geeks’ (and I say that word in the nicest way possible); and taking lots and lots of photos (everyone had a camera).

I spoke to two high school girls who were in bright pink costumes with funny ear-things (again, no idea) sitting on the floor in the hall and kept being interrupted with people asking to take their photo.  They have been there all weekend.  Do they get bored of being the subject of flashing cameras?  “We spent a long time on these costumes, so it’s nice to see our hard work has paid off.  You don’t go to this much trouble and expect not to be hounded.  Although there have been times when I’m eating that people will want to take photos.  I’ll tell them they can, but I’m not stopping eating!”  They seemed pretty tired after a long weekend of being underground (the Expo is a few escalators down, with no natural light), eating fast food from the food court, and chatting with strangers.

My favourite part of my day can be said in two words: William Shatner.  Yes, I was in the presence of the legend that is William Shatner.  Although I wouldn’t even dream of spending $80 for a photo with him or an autograph of his, I did see him from afar as he was signing away and making a fortune off of the hundred people or so waiting in line to have a moment (and yes, he literally signed and moved on to the next one – no chatting) with Captain Kirk.

Autograph session with William Shatner

There was a wide variety of people at Fan Expo.  Everyone from parents and their young kids, to classic comic book geeks, to people in their street clothes curious of what was going on.  I definitely felt a little out of place not knowing much about the five genres (although I am a horror movie fan, I used to read Archie comics as a kid, and I did grow up watching Star Trek).  But people were fairly friendly and helped me out when I asked questions about who people were – although not without a little condescending look of how could I not know who Tom Felton is (Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter, for those of you as uninformed as I am).

I’m not sure the world of comic books, anime and gaming is one I want to get too heavily involved in.  But I admire the commitment of the hard-core fans there.  It’s not every day you see people so passionate about their hobby or career.  And it was definitely a lot of fun to see how much work went in to the costumes people were wearing.  I was mesmerized.

A TV crew filming a segment from the Fan Expo hallway

I dedicate this post to my friends Anthony and Chris, who are comic book geeks and proud of it!