North American Contrarian

Telling it like it is… in North America


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Remembering Leonard Cohen

It’s been one year since Leonard Cohen died.  There are tributes all over Canada and the world.  In Montreal, the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a massive mural to pay tribute.

a53a54f769746a6189ab470952113d69.1000x1000x1Is it just me, or is this just totally contrary to this Leonard Cohen’s life?  The humble man who claimed to still let his neighbours use his washing machine  when they so obliged.   The man who spent years living in a Californian monastery so he could be engulfed in quiet and thought.

In any case, if people want to celebrate his life with parties and murals, I have no problem with that.  In fact, I totally understand the urge to make your sadness or your affection public.  Like all geniuses, everyone had a different relationship with his art, and I’m sure, for many like myself it is deeply personal.

Here is Leonard Cohen for me.

Leonard Cohen is what you listen to when things fall apart and you need context.  The below lyric- if you really spend time contemplating it,  should give you solace for whatever miserable situation you may be going through:

“There is a crack, there is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in”.

Leonard Cohen means Montreal.  An extremely charming and elegant city precisely because it’s not trying to be so.  A city that is dark and cold but still has a warmth bubbling just under the surface.   It’s a city that, though not oblivious to the latest trends, seems to harbour some sort of secret that the rest of us can aspire to but never have for ourselves.

“I bite my lip
I buy what I’m told
From the latest hit
To the wisdom of old
But I’m always alone
And my heart is like ice
And it’s crowded and cold
In my secret life”

Leonard Cohen means Jewishness.  I can hear in his melodies the same one that I did when I went to synagogue with my parents as a kid.   For those who have never been, a synagogue is very different from a church.  No one claps their hands or shouts.  There is no band or choir.  Instead, it’s lead by a man with a baritone voice and the congregation chants behind him.  The man at the front is contemplating god and the deepest mysteries that confront us all:

“And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?”

There is obviously no ‘right’ way to remember Leonard Cohen.  But for me, it will be with headphones on, solitary, letting the words and music evolve with meaning for my life today, like it has done so many times in the past.

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A life changing health & wellness routine

I wanted to share with the world my wellness regime. It’s quick, and it’s simple.  But most importantly, it’s incredibly, life-changingly, and deceivingly effective.

Here it is.  Every week, you shall do the following

  • Workout your bicep, back and shoulders, which will take exactly, precisely 30 minutes (more about this below) ,
  • Workout your chest and triceps which will take exactly, precisely 30 minutes.

That’s it.  There is no nutrition plan, no cardio plan, and I don’t even specify what I should be doing those 30 minutes or where it needs to happen.  That may sound incredibly vague, and even disappointing after such a bold title.    So let me explain a bit more in order of importance, as to why this is the most effective routine ever invented and why my health has consistently gotten better over the years while my friends and colleagues seem to follow the “new year’s resolution” plan.

  • Exactly, precisely, 30 minutes:

    That’s it.  Your workout will take exactly, precisely, 30 minutes and simple math download-1will show you that this is  a total of one hour a week.  I literally set a 30 minute timer and at the end- even if I’m totally in the zone, it’s over.  30 minutes is no accident.  This is the same time it takes to watch a sitcom, or a couple of youtube videos.  I think about this often.  Many, if not most days, I absolutely do not feel like completing a workout.  Maybe my two year old wanted to play ‘Mr. Dress Up’ at 3am or I just generally feel lethargic.  Then I think: sometime in the day, I’ll likely do nothing-chat idly to a colleague, or login to Facebook or stare at a wall.  Imagine, in that time I could have completed one of only two of my weekly commitments.  It’s a tiny fragment of time.  And then, reluctantly, I complete my obligation.

  • It’s short, but religious. 

    This is the biggest failing of 99% of exercise regimes like the insanity workout or caveman training .   I’m sure that these are extremely effective.  The caveat is, they only work if you complete them.  And, after a couple of months of that, who, in their right mind would want to continue something they know is going to leave them exhausted and in pain.  My plan is so unintimidating and the barrier to entry is so incredibly low, I can always drum up the energy to complete it.  I’ve been doing this routine for over 15 years, and can probably count on my hands the number of missed weeks.  These are not workouts- this is brushing your teeth.  It’s something not totally unpleasant that just needs to be done or you are just left feeling kinda yuck.

  • It’s twice a week:

    Here is the strange thing about two times a week.  It’s enough that, in your head, you become a “healthy individual”.  You are not a slob who does nothing like the masses, since more likely than not you just finished a workout over the past couple of days.  This is where strange things happen.  You want to eat better because, after all, that’s just what fit people who work out tend to do.  Over the course of the week, you sometimes think… hmmm… maybe I should also go for a run to make sure my heart is in the same shape as my muscles.  In other words exercise begets more exercise.  Please note (and this is important) that there is no obligation to do anything other than the two, 30 minute workouts, but it just seems that things fall into place.

  • It doesn’t include legs or many other muscle groups and fuck you.

    This is, in all honesty, not the most comprehensive workout.  For instance, I always hated working out legs, and  a few other body parts.  But the secret is that, as with an above point, the barrier to entry needs to be low.  The minute you give yourself an “out”, an excuse not to complete your twice weekly, piddly obligation, you almost unfailingly will chose to do so.

  • What you actually do during that 30 minutes is not as important as you might think: 

Here’s what I don’t do.  I don’t write down a single exercise I complete.   I don’t count

download

I’m going to guess that this is not your fitness goal.

sets.  I have no idea how much I’m lifting.  Hell, I don’t even know what exercise I did during any given session.  The only thing I know is that for that 30 minutes I spend concentrated, dedicated time on those body parts.  If I see someone do a cool exercise I hadn’t thought of, I simply do it.  This might sound anathema to any good workout routine- aren’t you supposed to try to improve each time?  My answer is that unless you plan to make your livelihood as a bodybuilder, or have some other overall objective (which is about .05% of us) there is ABSOLUTELY NO reason to care how much you lifted.  It’s like asking if you improved your toothbrushing lately- no you did what you needed to do to keep good dental hygiene that day or, in this case, what you needed to keep your body healthy.

  • It’s a good time to think/ catch up on interesting music or podcasts.

    Now that the pressure is off to overthink the actual exercise, you can focus on other things, too.  There are so many great podcasts and access to music is so easy that the workout is actually my chance to listen to some of this amazing content.

If you would like to give my miracle workout a try or have any other comments or suggestions please feel free to share!

 

 

 


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How I Manned Up… and Accepted the Vacuum Cleaner

I clearly remember the day I got into my first (and only) fight.  I was 16, and it happened after class in an open field. I have no recollection what started it, I simply remember that it attracted a big crowd, and that in the end I was thankful I didn’t lose teeth.  But I also recall being satisfied that the fight- along with chasing girls and sneaking into bars, was one more defining moment in my quest towards manhood.

It all seems so quaint now.

Fast forward 20 years.  Since then there is home ownership, a 9-5 job and a countless flow of bills that require “urgent” attention.   But these were all expected trappings of grown up life and drilled into me by endless teachers, professors and parents.

On being a man, however, there was scarcely little preparation.  Here, I’m not referring to the ability to fix an engine, build a fence or possess a preternatural knack to barbecue a steak to medium rare (I still struggle with all of these).

08800_pornforwomen36Instead, what I have found is that the greatest challenge to modern male-dom is the anti-archetype.   No one ever prepared me for the vacuum cleaner.

I don’t mean this in the sense that that I am bad at vacuuming and wish I had received more instruction throughout my upbringing.  What I mean is that it took me several years of internal strife to feel comfortable with the idea of Kevin vacuuming. It took even longer to reconcile doing the dishes, and I still struggle to handle my weekly garbage duties.

The older I get, the more I realize this is not a trivial matter.  There are duties that must be done in every home, and someone needs to accept responsibility for life’s most mundane tasks.  Leonard Cohen expressed it best in his song Democracy:

It’s the Homicidal Bitchin’;

That Goes Down in Every Kitchen;

To Determine Who Will Serve and Who Will Eat.

Of course, past generations of men rarely faced this dilemma when male duties were restricted to tasks requiring heavy lifting and power drills.  But as much as I would love to blame my parents and society, this too is not totally fair.

I am the first to accept that we have moved beyond the era where women should carry all the burden of domestic life.  And more than that, the truth is that I like the concept of the guy pitching in around the house.  When I see my (more enlightened) male friends changing diapers and cooking dinner, my honest reaction is: Here is my friend.  I know for a fact he’s straight.  We still play sports together, go out for beers and regularly make lewd comments about women.  Yet, he, somehow is comfortable- even content to voluntarily clear the dishes after the meal and feel no loss of pride.

This impresses me greatly.

But as much as I admire this quality,  when it gets down to the nitty-gritty- to actually scrubbing pots and maneuvering the dust-buster into tight crannies, a sense of real dissonance strikes.  And the fact is that I’m not alone in this feeling.  Numerous studies show that women- even in our modern, “enlightened” age still, disproportionately do the housework.  One study from Cornell University showed that women still do most of the household even when woman works and the man is unemployed. 

You don’t need to be a hardcore feminist to accept that it leaves women with a pretty raw deal.  They earned the right to work, but still do not make the same salary men,  Not only must they endure PMS and labour, they are also expected to be the predominant child minders.  On top of that, they are still the ones we expect will get the mustard stains out of our pants when we run into a hot-dog “challenge”.

It was this realization that led me to take another look at the vacuum.  No, not just look… I decided I would dominate the vacuum like my childhood hero Tony Hawk took on the half-pipe.  I made it a personal mission, every Sunday to get every fleck of dust out from under the bed, and ensure that no speck of grime remained on the baseboards.  I know it’s just vacuuming, and there’s a lot more than that to keeping a home, but it’s a start, one about which my wife is quite pleased.

And, strange as it sounds, accepting the vacuum also had an important side benefit.  It made me realize that, in spite of what I believed growing up, the characteristics we most associate with manliness are the ones that are easy because doing what is expected is almost always the most simple course of action.  Instead, the real test and the most difficult challenge is to act outside of these stereotypes and make our own definitions of who we are.

For me, it started with the vacuum cleaner.


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5 Life Lessons From Cavemen

Mankind has made huge progress since the ancient days when we wandered the earth itinerantly and relied on fickle stars instead of a Tom Tom, or even Google Maps.

url-1Yes, we have discovered great marvels like the George Foreman grill (just imagine how uneven Sabre Tooth Tigre meat would be without convection cooking) and small wonders like toilet paper (I have read much about our fore bearers but have yet to learn how they handled one of mankind’s greatest challenges.)

But before we get overly self congratulatory about our progress, I think it’s worth considering some of the great life lessons from our cavemen brethren.

1) The Tough Mudder, Every Day:

Without the aid of protein shakes or kale, cavemen rarely put on even a pound.  Instead they followed a vigorous exercise regimen, a daily sweat fest that somewhat resembled the tough mudder but with only slightly less opportunity for team bonding between events.  The swivel chair and ergonomic mouse had yet to be invented and our ancestors had little incentive or motivation to sit for eight hours a day.

Vericose viens were exceedingly rare in those days.

2) A Sophisticated Diet Plan:

paleo-diet1 Even before the advent of foie gras, the cavemen’s diet was surprisingly sophisticated.  Everything was locally sourced, organic and free range.  The menu was heavy on meats, berries and other simple grains.  it was a hybrid that would both make Atkins proud while also satisfying Michael Pollan and discerning foodies, all before the advent of the Food Network.

3) Only Keep What You Can Carry:

Cavemen carefully avoided our natural obsession with hoarding in a very simple way.  There were no shortage of great things available for the taking: ornate rocks, carefully chiselled bones and fur coats of every description (granted, yearly subscriptions to Nat Geo were still not available to collect dust in the cave cellar).

But you can just picture a caveman telling his wife “honey, I agree that giant hunk of quartz is a beauty, but I just can’t be running from a wholly mammoth with that thing strapped to my back”.

It was a remarkably effective strategy with the result that cavemen were the original pioneers of the minimalist lifestyle.

 4) Family Comes First:6a00d8341bf7f753ef00e54f3e5bcb8834-800wi

This was not something that little cavemen children learnt during endless reruns of the Cosby Show.   Instead it was engrained from birth that your family was your most important worldly possession.  These people formed the only barrier between you and everything the natural world could throw at you.

Dad was more than they guy who could grant you car privileges on the weekend.  Instead, he was your only defence against some very toothy animals that wanted to add you to the food chain while you slept.

Clearly, this is not a guy you wanted to piss off.

5) Seise Each Day

Before Lululemon brought yoga to the mainstream and Deepak Chopra urged us to awake to a new consciousness, cavemen practiced a brand of new age lifestyle that will go down in the ages.  This was largely for expediency, as our fore bearers had little time to reminisce about the past or look forward to the future.

Indeed, cavemen were the ultimate practitioners of living in the now.  They seized each moment as if it were their last and lived each day to its absolute fullest without the requirement of yoga mats, tie die or Yanni recordings.

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Five “Musts” For A North American Contrarian

You may think that life as a Contrarian in North America is quite simple.  Let’s face it, there is no shortage of material to choose from and no lack of absurdity to be exposed.  To be a contrarian, you may say, all it takes is a snarky attitude, with a pinch of obstinacy for good measure.  And while these definitely don’t hurt, they are only the start.  Below are five other basic necessities to go from novice to the advanced reaches of contrarianism.

1) A Passport:

imagesIt would be unfair to target this continent before having ventured afield to others.  A true contrarian needs their passport because they understand the value of travel to give a deeper perspective on the place they call home.  Are other continents and places equally absurd?  Of course they are!  I’m sure when a Nigerian guy stays a while in Asia he thinks back to his home and says, damn, that Nigeria is a very odd place. It is only through the act of leaving that a contrarian can make real  judgments about his home.

2) Buckets of Books: images-1

If television is the media of the masses, books are the choice of the intelligent.  How can you truly form an alternative opinion to the mainstream if you consume the same material as everyone else?  Books are the fuel that brings fire to a contrarian arguments.  It is through the slow, methodical study of facts and arguments that the contrarian truly hones their craft.

3) A Bike:

Can a North American Contrarian drive a car?  Of course they can!  This is not an exercise in deprivation and life in North America is built around the great American (though now more likely, Asian) automobile.  The distinction here is that the contrarian is open to other forms of transport and uses them wherever possible.

Two feet are a good start and public transport will do in a pinch.  But for its incredibly efficiency, nothing beats a bike.  Bikes are free to park, fun, fast and very low maintenance.   For those who simply cannot give up their combustible engine, scooters are almost as bike47efficient.  My little Yamaha Vino 125 is in it’s 8th year and purrs around the city on $4 a fill-up .

The point is that a contrarian does not buy the myth that a car is a birthright which defines his identity, but is in fact a machine that results in more debt and poorer health.

nb: an important clarification.  The bike I’m referring is not an “accessory.”  Buying a $2,000 single speed is only slightly less ridiculous than buying an SUV.  A utilitarian, easy to fix bike with lots of gears, purchased on Kijiji is what I am referring to.

4) Less of Everything:

Week_1_Less_is_More-300x300In a world that prizes consumption above all else, this one could be the most important credo for the aspiring contrarian.  The odds here are truly stacked against us.  We are told that to be truly happy we need more of everything: be it bigger portions, automobiles or flat screen TV’s.  More stuff and bigger homes to hold said stuff.

I’m not a minimalist and I am truly in awe of the the many advances we have made in technology.  But when I do make a purchase, it is only after careful consideration.  Will this item truly make my life better?  Is the money spend now worth robbing my future self?  In some cases, the answer is yes.  But time and time again, after some careful thought, I come to a resounding no.

5) A Healthy Dose of Cynicism

Simply put, being a true contrarian requires different way of looking at the world.  It’s not about rejecting everything.  It’s not choosing a side, be it urlright vs. left or vegetarian vs. meat eater.  There is no club to join, or fashion movement to follow.

Instead it’s about approaching the world with a healthy dose of cynicism and making informed decisions based on information and careful consideration.

Above all else, being a contrarian is about waking up and being conscious in a place where so many are content to automatically accept everything presented as the absolute truth.


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Three Attributes of Life In A Facebook World

While far from a “heavy user”, I do check Facebook often. And there is something that I have noticed about the world I inhabit there.  While it ostensibly gives me a window into the lives of my friends all around the world I see only the most curated view.  This is because we connect in a pseudo world, a place quite different from the real one, with its own set of rules and regulations.  Here are some of the attributes of life in a Facebook world.

1) We wake up happy, every day!

Energetic teenagerIn this place we wake up happy, no ecstatic, every day without fail.  You see, we love our Facebook world.  Here we keep occupied with only life’s most incredible pursuits.  One day we board a flight to an exotic local (only business class will do), the next we  sip on cocktails with little umbrella’s, or stand triumphantly in front of the world’s great monuments.  Often, we are so excited about our day’s pursuits that we snap a quick selfie.  We are, naturally, locked in a bright smile.  At other moments, during a night of debauchery, our arms are wrapped exuberantly around friends in what surely includes wild sex, heavy drinking and general mayhem.  We live life to it’s fullest, and each day surpasses the last for the sheer happiness we exude.

2) We Always Know Just What to Say

ikXfBwFWe can be playful, we can be coy, but we always know just what to say.  Whether it’s pointing to a clever Meme (Cue Business Baby with caption: Susan, reschedule my 9 o’clock meeting.  I just shit my pants”), or links to inspiring articles (91 year-old man runs marathon in 3:04) we are never at a loss for words.  We talk with the self assuredness of someone who knows that what we say has great importance for our wide audience of listeners.

3) We Have the Solution to The World’s Greatest Problems

Thereimages are difficult moments in the Facebook world.  We are, after all realists, who understand that there are real issues at stake.  When we saw the movie “The Cove” we lamented the horrendous act of killing dolphins, adding a link to the film and saying “Shameful behaviour: we need to stop this- NOW” with a link to an online petition.  We make lots of these timely statements about the world’s conundrums, and explain how we have the solution at hand.  For instance, after the earthquake in Haiti, we noted that we’d already donated $100 to Red Cross.  We patiently explain that we only use biodegradable products in an effort to ward of climate change.  While we don’t outright say it, we imply that following our lead will improve the lot for us all.


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Death by Bicycle

After many years of jealously hearing about Copenhagen’s bike highways, I have come to accept that the car is the preferred mode of transportation here.  The car is comfortable, Imageconvenient and allows for supreme laziness, all important traits of the North American lifestyle. But there is a small group of people that do not (or can not) drive.  They are the poor (can’t afford it), the hipsters (single speeds are expensive AND florescent)  and the cheapskates (myself) that hate the cost of the car and enjoy the outdoors and exercise.  This small group faces a big obstacle to their favorite mode of transportation- death.  Um, yes…DEATH… like,the end of their life.  I am not being dramatic.  This summer scores of Torontonians were killed.  They get caught in the streetcar tracks and pummelled by a 500 ton streetcar.  They get “doorprized” ie. a parked car opens their door just as they are

Imagepassing and they are sent flying over the handlebars.  Or, in a case this week, a driver simply hits them and then drives off.  Death is quite the price to pay for riding a bicycle.  I don’t mean to get political or bore you with the state of Toronto’s municipal politics.  But the reaction to such events is a bit counter-intuitive.  It’s to label anyone who cycles a pinko and to remove bike lanes. The idea here is that if drivers have free reign, they can move about how they see fit and easily swerve around the cyclist.  Or, maybe the real hope is that the crazy cyclists will simply recognize their naivety, and allow their bikes to rust in their oversized garage like a good North American.  Whatever the intention, the result pits driver in a heavy vehicle against the peddler on a featherweight bicycle.  It’s a match-up that rarely ends well and exacts a heavy toll for a bit of fresh air and a few bucks saved.