equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
08 Apr 14

so we beat on

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Life at the comic book shop con­tin­ues to be the Empire Records fan­tasy every­one dreams it to be. Maybe that’s why some­one walks in every shift to hand in a resume. Even peo­ple who have no inten­tion of look­ing for a job ask if there are any open­ings as soon as they see the merch catered to every genre of geek.

The fact that there are only a dozen among us means the crew is tight. I get to play back-cash DJ and turn up the elec­tron­ica that’s come to define this period of recov­ery. Still, there are days when the com­puter breaks down on a night when I’m run­ning a tour­na­ment by myself, I have to do all the pair­ings man­u­ally, and get­ting home to a hot shower is the purest relief.

dog in snow

 

Having a steady stream of plans mixed in with work means I’m con­stantly wak­ing up to an alarm. It’s wear­ing me down, but my need for stim­u­la­tion is out­weigh­ing my need for sleep. For now, at least.

I don’t write any­more cause I get my val­i­da­tion through peo­ple. The right ones set aside time for me, lis­ten as much as they speak, and don’t treat me any dif­fer­ently cause of my past. I haven’t felt the need to sort out my thoughts — one of the main rea­sons I used to write — as much as accept myself. It’s a mat­ter of patience at this point, and weath­er­ing the rough periods.

Arcade Fire — Reflektor tour

Arcade Fire on their Reflektor tour, fea­tur­ing Stephen Harper as tambourine-playing box head.

That means I’m still learn­ing how to take care of myself. Still com­ing to terms with the fact that love is so rarely clean or tidy or in our con­trol, but real­iz­ing that’s okay. Still try­ing to believe that I shouldn’t be embar­rassed of any­thing I’ve suf­fered. Still fig­ur­ing out my idea of hap­pi­ness, what’s mean­ing­ful and what’s possible.

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03 Mar 14

the time that we kill keeps us alive

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I’ve been doing my best not to let my inse­cu­ri­ties get the bet­ter of me. Some days I still do noth­ing but hurt, but it’s get­ting eas­ier to accept myself dur­ing those low points. I’m for­tu­nate to have friends who for­give me when I’ve been out of touch and out of time, even if they don’t under­stand why.

Deleting my Facebook account was the biggest step I’ve taken towards avoid­ing unhealthy media; one of those things peo­ple say they want to do, but can’t, cause it’s their only con­nec­tion to some com­mu­nity or cir­cle of friends. I decided the habit is too detri­men­tal to my well-being, even if the same is true for me.

kitty commander

 

Pat and I have been play­ing EDH on top of our drafts, some­thing that fre­quently involves him for­go­ing home­work while I give up time to myself. The com­plex card inter­ac­tions and unpre­dictabil­ity of the sin­gle­ton for­mat make play­ing a deck as much fun as build­ing it. I’ve been run­ning the Modern tour­na­ment he com­petes in every week, and after­wards, we head back to the warmth of the house and the com­pany of the cats. Freezing rain becomes a rea­son to stay up late and crash and play more in the morning.

It makes me feel like I’m in uni­ver­sity again, full of boy­ish vigour, young enough to have the free­dom to act so irre­spon­si­bly, while old enough to know bet­ter. In moments between bat­tle, I learn we’re all recy­cled star­dust, that it’s pos­si­ble for par­ents to accept their chil­dren despite their prob­lems, and smok­ing hash will serve for sleep.

thoughtful note

 

Every now and then, Heather stops by to leave me a small pack­age of things like pre­mium loose leaf tea, dark choco­late, and organic fruit; small trea­sures on which a shared life can be cen­tred, and reminders that I’m never for­got­ten. In doing so, she’s become one of the peo­ple who pro­vides me with the con­sis­tent reas­sur­ance I need, even though entire sea­sons may pass before we have a chance to con­nect. Her love and gen­eros­ity car­ries me through the times we’re too busy doing the things we need to survive.

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13 Feb 14

it is okay to hold your heart outside of your body

It’s been more than a week since I had a night alone. I never thought I’d be able to han­dle this kind of stim­u­la­tion again, but most peo­ple work dur­ing the day and my shifts involve run­ning the tour­neys when they’re off, so I still have morn­ings to myself. I can tell how quickly time is pass­ing cause the gaps in my photo fold­ers are turn­ing into months.

Being around so many peo­ple gives me a chance to work on my altru­ism. It’s always been easy with peo­ple who are impor­tant to me. Now I’m try­ing to fall into the habit of being kind to the ones who are neu­tral, to try to truly under­stand their real­ity so I can acknowl­edge their hap­pi­ness or suf­fer­ing. It’s a way for me to remove my bias, includ­ing whether I think they deserve either of those emo­tions, and always a hum­bling exercise.

girl on couch

 

Still, I wish I could explain what I was feel­ing. So much of myself was defined by my emo­tions. I remem­ber rid­ing the bus, los­ing myself to the warmth of the sun on my face and the swelling sound in my head­phones. Nowadays, every scene plays out like all caps slug lines in a screen­play. Nothing has changed but the dosage, and I don’t know if that’s a fact I should take com­fort in.

Not to say there aren’t dif­fi­cult times. I don’t have much con­trol over trig­gers, and I’m not ready to deal with cer­tain parts of my life yet. I’ve had to keep a dis­tance from toxic peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions to gain a sense of sta­bil­ity before I approach them again. It’s a way for me to give myself time to heal, after real­iz­ing just how much needs to be done.

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03 Feb 14

for you, i am sweeping words together

Winter has always been dif­fi­cult at times. At –15 or below, breath becomes a layer of ice on the win­dows when parked out­side, and I can do noth­ing but wait for the car to warm up again so I can see enough to drive. At that point, it means I’m sit­ting in the car for longer than my com­mute. I try to take it as a good way to prac­tice patience, but it’s a hard wait after an eight hour shift on my feet. It’s still win­ter in all it’s muf­fling glory though, the time in the year I most appre­ci­ate liv­ing in Canada. Girls and cats alike are more affec­tion­ate too, and I don’t mind being the source of heat.

cats and winter

 

I tend to get up around sun­rise now, and every time I step out­side before the rest of the world wakes up, it feels like I’m born again. It’s a chance for me to hit the reset but­ton on the last day. To let go of the past, even if it hap­pened only seven hours ago, and become a blank slate.

I also grad­u­ally broke the habit of check­ing my feeds after feel­ing jaded about news and media, then com­ing across this arti­cle. After months of absten­tion, I can say that I’ve gained time and lost noth­ing. It’s left me feel­ing increas­ingly dis­con­nected from the world, but I know that means I’m begin­ning to learn what really matters.

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10 Jan 14

50/50

I’m writ­ing as a way of prac­tic­ing self-compassion. Weeks get lost to the cus­tomers and com­mute, and when time off involves not think­ing or being around peo­ple, it doesn’t leave much room for per­sonal growth.

The prob­lem is that noth­ing feels real or true unless I write it down. The changes are start­ing to flow together, and I’m at var­i­ous stages of progress on sev­eral fronts. There are no begin­nings, no ends, no chap­ters, no dis­tinc­tive tran­si­tions I can sum up neatly in a title. The lessons stretch out to years instead of months. Development has given way to evo­lu­tion. It seems silly to write about a feel­ing that won’t last from the first time I hit Save Draft to Publish.

I’ve been reach­ing out to new peo­ple cause it felt like every­thing I was doing was wrong. Marie came to feed the cats, not know­ing I was back from the hos­pi­tal. I broke down in her arms, and she bab­bled at me over break­fast, excus­ing her­self for talk­ing so much cause she was ner­vous about not know­ing how to help. I asked if she’d watch a movie with me, some­thing to do that was nor­mal and not cry­ing. It helped.

Jason’s also been talk­ing me through the upheaval. Advice is eas­ier to accept when it comes from a sur­vivor, espe­cially one who never pre­sumes to know what’s best for me. He’s become the stick prod­ding me for­ward one small step at at time, a voice of rea­son in my ear that reminds me to keep on doing this until liv­ing is like breath­ing again.

It’s a reminder that I’m here only cause peo­ple believe in me; they’re the ones tip­ping the scales when it feels like I might as well flip a coin and let fate decide what I can’t.

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21 Dec 13

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13 Dec 13

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09 Dec 13

hey, c'mon

He’s only 40, an age I’d still con­sider young for a doc­tor. I see the fea­tures of so many of my Chinese peers in his face, though he’s actu­ally an Irish expat. Family and a restau­rant sealed his par­ents deci­sion to emi­grate to the Emerald Isle when he was too young to speak. It explains why his con­ver­sa­tional dic­tion is impec­ca­ble while some spo­ken con­so­nants are merged or lost, a famil­iar accent from being born into a Cantonese fam­ily. This imme­di­ately puts me on my guard. I’ve rarely got­ten along with those peers; the cul­ture hasn’t been kind.

But I’m not here for myself. I didn’t even make the appoint­ment, which is why I don’t know what to say.

Thankfully, he takes the lead and takes his time. The ques­tions cover a mot­ley gamut, and I can tell how com­pre­hen­sive his notes are through the clack­ing of the keyboard.

At some point he asks if any­one came with me, and I tell him who’s in the wait­ing room. He kindly offers to speak to her on my behalf, but she already knows. It’s the only rea­son I’m telling this story another time. I can’t help admit­ting how humil­i­at­ing it is to be so depen­dent on oth­ers, to need peo­ple like her so des­per­ately some­times that I can’t imag­ine how I’d sur­vive with­out them.

Without any change in his pro­ce­dural tone, he says this sen­ti­ment is part of our Chinese guilt. We dis­ap­point our par­ents by not being strong enough to live up to their expec­ta­tions as self-reliant adults, but they pre­vent us from grow­ing up by treat­ing us like chil­dren and refus­ing to let us make our own deci­sions. He knows, cause he’s gone through the same thing. At the same time, he never con­dones my feel­ings, offer­ing a reas­sur­ance that we all han­dle things dif­fer­ently, and that we can’t do it alone some­times. It tells me he doesn’t just lis­ten; he cares.

Before send­ing me off with a dose of Pristiq, he hands me a sealed enve­lope — on it writ­ten “emer­gency room let­ter” — and tells me to give it to the doc­tor at the Queensway-Carleton, while care­fully sug­gest­ing I have noth­ing to lose at this point. It makes sense, but I’m not ready. Not yet. This is good for now. She’ll thank me for tak­ing this step, one that’s as much for her as it is for me.

After, we hold hands in the car while wait­ing to be com­posed enough to be seen in pub­lic, bass lines wash­ing over us like heart­beats, an affir­ma­tion of rea­sons for and the things I love.

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28 Nov 13

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20 Nov 13

stay is a sensitive word

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I haven’t been able to come up with a way of explain­ing the absence. I guess I’m still fig­ur­ing out where I stand at this par­tic­u­lar moment, and what it means to keep going. Many days were lost to the flux of ambiver­sion, when all I was try­ing to do was sur­vive the bal­ance of how much space I needed with how much com­fort I could only get from oth­ers. Suffice it to say, I’ve learned the impor­tance of tak­ing the time just to feel okay, which has mostly involved enjoy­ing the games I’ve put off play­ing for so long, spend­ing time with those who make me feel wanted+needed+awesome+loved, and draft­ing as often as possible.

girl and cat

 

My birth­day came some­where in between, a day I got to pick all the shows, eat dirty bird, and nest with the cats on me when they weren’t in the cud­dle train. It made the whole day mine, not because it was some­thing I asked for, but because some­one wanted to give that to me.

I’m slowly let­ting my guard down, let­ting myself share new songs in the dark, so the pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences become a per­ma­nent part of me. Making new mem­o­ries is a step towards sooth­ing my his­tory with heart­break. The com­fort I find in our embraces car­ries me through the time we’re apart, but feel­ing safe is still very for­eign. Just touch­ing fin­gers is a vul­ner­a­ble step, and it’s like being on a tightrope every time I put aside my inse­cu­ri­ties to make progress. Thankfully, she hasn’t let me fall yet.

Magic: The Gathering and beer

 

Most recently, I started work­ing at the busiest comic book shop in the city as one of the res­i­dent Magic experts. It’s left me try­ing to find my bal­ance again, even though the job is part-time and never feels like work. The posi­tion mostly involves run­ning the tour­na­ments, trading/selling/organizing cards, and giv­ing peo­ple game advice; things I already love doing in my spare time. A nice bonus is the fact that a new friend hap­pens to be one of the reg­u­lars at the Modern Constructed tour­ney, and I get to root for him and see how he does between matches.

Shawn even came in to say hi and give me hugs on my first day. Reminders all around that make me feel worth­while, instead of just believ­ing it. It’s the dif­fer­ence between know­ing some­thing in my head to my heart, a gap I’m start­ing to bridge with help from the right people.

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30 Sep 13

slow plays and hybrid strains

Darren stopped by for a stay on the way to Montreal for his first multi-day hol­dem tour­na­ment. The first and last nights ended up being the only ones we had to our­selves. Otherwise, it was a mix of friends and strangers, sati­vas and inci­das, com­ing and going through the house each day. I’m glad he was along for the ride, even though I’m always up far too late when we’re together, and it’s get­ting harder on my body as I get older.

Theros draft

Theros draft at my place on release day. I walked away with 1st, but it was off a missed rules call (by me) in my match against Shawn, one that would have made a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence on the tiebreaker. I’ll always remem­ber the night I won Xenagos and a Thoughtseize (which cov­ers both my entry fee along with Darren’s), but the vic­tory will for­ever be tainted.

It’s feels like I’m a dif­fer­ent per­son, liv­ing a dif­fer­ent life, every time we hang out. The dis­tance between us means the change we expe­ri­ence is always sig­nif­i­cant enough to notice. This time my rela­tion­ships have changed the most cause I’ve started com­part­men­tal­iz­ing peo­ple, appre­ci­at­ing them for their strengths instead of expect­ing every­one to live up to some lofty set of expec­ta­tions. My needs have always been the same, but I’m get­ting bet­ter at mak­ing sure they’re met after finally fig­ur­ing out what they are. I’m also bet­ter at read­ing peo­ple, detect­ing under­tone, and under­stand­ing social inter­ac­tions, thanks to Shawn’s exper­tise rub­bing off on me.

In terms of self-improvement, I’m try­ing to be more under­stand­ing of the world at large, while reduc­ing my hate and increas­ing my patience. I’ve also started to ana­lyze and resolve the trig­gers that keep me from being the per­son I was meant to be. The strug­gles I used to have only a few years ago seem so ado­les­cent in com­par­i­son to the things I’m work­ing on now. My pri­or­i­ties have matured, or I’ve grown in ways that have made old issues obsolete.

I’d never have real­ized any of this if Darren hadn’t showed up to pull me so far out of my reg­u­lar life that I lost track of what day it was and the women I’d loved and the feel­ing of cold. I learn as much about myself as I do about him when we’re catch­ing up.

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20 Sep 13

moment by moment by moment

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It’s turned into a month of impro­vi­sa­tion. Even my reg­u­lar events are being resched­uled, so I’ve lost the only anchors I have to a nor­mal week. It’s hard to make plans when I don’t know how I’ll feel from one day to the next. Harder when I don’t know the next chance I’ll have to spend with the peo­ple who love me the way I need to be loved. I can tell it’s been too long when I start to dwell on my inse­cu­ri­ties, and the days feel more and more heavy.

I’m let­ting this period be a way for me to ease away from alter­nat­ing between iso­la­tion and anx­ious cling­ing. Being busy is forc­ing me to pay atten­tion to the cur­rent moment. To be present with the per­son I’m with, but more impor­tantly, with myself. Otherwise, I can’t han­dle the thought of how much stim­u­la­tion I’m facing.

cat in slippers

Slippers, because she needs to find ways to be more com­fort­able in her day-to-day life.

Dolly’s been sleep­ing on my duvet again, an old habit of hers. It’s a sign that fall is here, as she prefers to swad­dle in the dark when it gets too cold by the win­dow. She also recently decided to start sleep­ing on my pil­low1, and I can feel her purring through my skull, a new and unex­pected devel­op­ment in our rela­tion­ship. I love the fact that I’m still learn­ing things about her, that she’s still capa­ble of change as she approaches a decade with me. As always, I have the fall to thank.

backyard garden

 

A lot of pro­gres­sive trance has been in the mix dur­ing all this upheaval. It’s a genre I’ve never pur­posely explored until recently. I’ve been try­ing to fig­ure out how to make my own cov­ers inter­est­ing by adding lots of dynamic ele­ments and mak­ing sure phrases aren’t used too often. These DJs do the exact oppo­site with lots of rep­e­ti­tion and min­i­mal ele­ments, yet some­how make each song a jour­ney in itself. It’s a pleas­ant puz­zle to try to solve. Now I have many new addic­tions that have been per­fect for night time rides and count­ing yel­low high­way lines.

I won­der if these songs will end up remind­ing me of a time I’m con­stantly being bro­ken down so I can heal prop­erly. The old ones don’t mean the same thing anymore.

  1. Although I can’t fig­ure out how she fits on it by her­self to begin with. []
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13 Sep 13

diner

Sometimes we go people-watching at the Elgin Street Diner at two in the morn­ing. Not just cause it’s one of the only places still open, but because it tends to be too busy before then. It’s hard to point some­one out or steal a glance with­out being noticed when the tables are all occupied.

We try to fig­ure out rela­tion­ships from the way peo­ple sit, sto­ries from the state of their shoes. Mostly it’s young drunks, try­ing to set­tle their stom­achs with some grease before head­ing home. Frat boys from the bars, clus­ters of girls in tight dresses from the clubs. The ones who’ve had too much are easy to spot: when they aren’t mak­ing a bee­line to the bath­room, they’re star­ing at their plates, won­der­ing how much warn­ing they’ll need for the next run.

But every so often is an enigma, like four men in cargo shorts who aren’t young enough to be sin­gle, but not old enough to be divorced. The cor­po­rate logos on their golf shirts belie the no-upkeep, don’t-care-anymore look that comes with father­hood. It’s a breed rarely seen out beyond nine on a Thursday night, and one that looks espe­cially out of place at a time when the only cars on the road are taxis and cruisers.

I don’t judge, but I sure do wonder.

Elgin Street Diner

 

This is our way of escap­ing the reg­u­lar lives we lead, before catch­ing up on enough sleep to beat morn­ing rush-hour on the way home, and back to another day of real­ity. No one told us about the roles we had to play as adults, or the respon­si­bil­i­ties that come with it. To com­bat signs of aging, share onion-bacon pou­tine, chocolate-banana milk­shakes, and a slice of peanut-butter cake every now and then. Just an hour here is plenty, as long as it’s done on a reg­u­lar basis.

When we’re fend­ing off exhaus­tion to spend one more moment in each other’s com­pany, shar­ing food we shouldn’t eat and words we shouldn’t say, I know I’m the only one she wants to be with there. It’s more proof to me than the things she writes and the rit­u­als we share. So many peo­ple take that kind of unspo­ken faith for granted, but it’s still new to me, and I’m learn­ing how much I need to be spe­cial to someone.

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17 Aug 13

200 miles just to learn

The only time Rob and I ever had a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion was the night before Aaron’s wed­ding, when we were the last ones up out of the grooms­men stay­ing at my house. Aside from that, I wasn’t sure if I’ve ever con­nected with him on a per­sonal level; I’ve been dis­cov­er­ing how dif­fer­ently some behave when oth­ers are around, and with Aaron or Mel in the mix, he’s got even more to prove than usual.

But I could always tell that under­neath the brash and indomitable impres­sion he gives the world is a wis­dom not shared by many. It was exactly that kind of aware­ness I was look­ing to be in the com­pany of, so I took the chance to visit when it would be just the two of us. Even though we’re so dif­fer­ent in so many ways, it turns out the things we have in com­mon are more sig­nif­i­cant, and I dis­cov­ered he’s exactly the kind of friend I need right now.

photo montage

 

The man-cave mostly fea­tures posters of comic book heroes and car­toon fig­urines, the only pic­tures being found in a lit­tle frame next to the com­puter. It was strange to see two of myself in there next to one of him suck­ing back a beer with Trevor. That was back when I rocked my hair with a part down the mid­dle and occa­sion­ally some solid colour, though I don’t remem­ber any­thing about it oth­er­wise — a strange anom­aly in a per­son with a pho­to­graphic mem­ory. Lost the hoodie, still have the coat, won’t be caught wear­ing those glasses again.

The only other peo­ple who have a pic­ture of me in their homes are Aaron and Alex. I always take those pho­tographs as a telling sign of your rela­tion­ship with some­one. It means they care enough to want you around even when you’re not there. I guess that’s why each of them have more pho­tos of me than both my par­ents com­bined, and why Rob calls me brother.

changing dressings

 

The nurse comes every day to change the dress­ings and keep an eye out for infec­tion. Aside from the list­ing hob­ble, you’d never have an idea of the pun­ish­ment this body has borne under­neath, until a wince when the tube drags against his shirt. That and the fact that there isn’t a bot­tle of Blue in his hand. Otherwise, the acci­dent didn’t change Rob at all. He’s still the happy-go-lucky, take-it-on-the-chin kind of guy. To him, the world has always been sim­ple, an equa­tion that can be solved with mus­cle and mass, and he car­ries both answers in spades.

Under any other cir­cum­stance, I’d hate him. He’s obnox­ious, stub­born, and proud; a type I don’t get along with. But I’m also on his good side, which means he’s loyal and lov­ing unlike any other, and he shows this every time he squeezes the breath out of my chest until I’m weak and com­ing up for air. Through him, I’m learn­ing to under­stand and accept the peo­ple I’d oth­er­wise turn away from.

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05 Aug 13

let us have our tongues

It’s not that I don’t want to write about how things are slowly chang­ing, I just never seem to have the chance. Nowadays, my pri­or­i­ties are sur­vival else­where, and the writ­ten word isn’t the out­let I need anymore.

Besides, every time I try to get a thought on a page, I get lost in the scope. My think­ing con­stantly goes fur­ther and fur­ther, as my under­stand­ing of the world moves beyond the things that affect only me. It’s made me a more patient, com­pas­sion­ate, and empa­thetic per­son. But by the time I fig­ure some­thing out, the feel­ing is gone, and words are no longer relevant.

slider

 

I’ve been try­ing to leave my cam­era at home too, a way of forc­ing myself to savour each expe­ri­ence. It’s a del­i­cate bal­ance between that and my ever-present need to doc­u­ment every­thing. I’m dis­cov­er­ing that mem­o­ries aren’t as vivid as pho­tographs, but they live longer in the implicit part of the mind, and both are food to an intro­vert nonetheless.

Days with­out a way to cap­ture the world around me are never easy. I want to take pic­tures of sun­light and sum­mer and sweat and sex, but life hasn’t been so much about events as the reg­u­lar­ity. The moments I share every day with the peo­ple I need, or the time between when I’m recharg­ing and heal­ing. The things worth appre­ci­at­ing are more fre­quent, but all the more fleet­ing too.

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