On the edge of a new verse

Welcome to this week’s issue of The Jumpstack: the final one of 2019! This week, we look at the gaping chasm of a new year and a new decade. Let’s jump in!

Faster, faster

As far as stressful weeks go, this week must be a contender for worst of the year for the most amount of people.

Retail and service workers are bombarded with frazzled, frantic customers; the offices both wind down, and ramp up, as workers scurry in hope of a vacation without worry; and everyone is wearing exactly one layer of clothing too much, or not enough, and it feels unbearable.

Tempers are short, receipts long, and there’s an unspoken acknowledgement that everyone is three sentences away from going into fight-or-flight mode. It’s dangerous out there.

It’s too dangerous for Andrew Scheer, who ignored my advice to grow a beard and resign from the federal Conservative party leadership last week. He’s leaving as the Harper protege that failed to form a government against a floundering Trudeau, even when the skies seemingly opened and rained down pictures of Justin in blackface like manna from right-wing heaven.

Andrew Scheer leaves with the public perception of a man who couldn’t be honest to anyone, even to himself—dragged offstage by his own party with a very large and obvious shepherd’s crook.

And now we face a winter of Conservative chaos, as figures for the leadership come out of the woodwork, knives drawn, and the real fight for the future of the Conservative party begins. Centrists and the left need not be gleeful, however: Ontarians are only too well aware how a leadership race in the months with the least amount of sunlight can go.

No one at this point knows who and what will remain and lead the conservative party when the frost finally leaves, but my tweet about a Premier Sam Oosterhoff is a prophecy and a warning: I’ve yet to meet anyone of any political leaning that does not shudder at the concept.

Be careful in your civil war, Conservatives: the Liberals and NDP should not take this time to rest on their laurels, either. In every crisis there is opportunity, particularly when the crisis is not your own.

Embrace the inescapable

We’ve already completed a number of the rituals of winter already: the first real snowfall, the first deep freeze, the first post-storm TTC chaotic morning commute. We try to figure out just how bad this winter will be, consulting meteorology forecasts and staring at fat squirrels that cross our path. For the next three months, we’re in survival mode.

I prefer mild, snowy winters to cold dry ones: I hate the word “windchill” and I shudder at the concept of a “polar vortex.” The most miserable sensation is stepping outside and feel the hairs inside your nose freeze, and the wind hitting you like you weren’t wearing three layers and your warmest coat.

Retreat is the sensible, natural thing to do, and this essay by Bernd Brunner is a fascinating look at the historical means we took to get through the darkest season:

If it got too cold, the solution for millennia was simply to seek refuge in bed: an entire family, along with their servants and guests, might find mutual warmth under the covers. Hanging curtains to create canopy beds or even building alcove beds into the wall provided another layer of heat-trapping protection.

Do not be ashamed of your throw blanket collection and binge-watching practices: you are merely partaking of a contemporary version of an ancient defence against the coldest months.

Unresolved issues

I completely admit that my resolution for 2019 (that I remember) was to wash my makeup off every night, and was abandoned before Lunar New Year. I know this is terrible and gross, but I’m also very lazy when I am sleepy.

For about a half-hour, earlier this week, I convinced myself that I could commit to going to bed by 10 p.m. each night so that I could get a full eight hours sleep, but the fever passed. The desire to make resolutions, and the dream of keeping them and becoming this imagined superior future self remains. But what if the problem is how I’m approaching resolutions in the first place?

This quick article from Stephanie Vozza suggests that by taking a comprehensive look at your past year, you can identify and set resolutions not just based on your failures, but your successes:

Often people don’t realize how much they learn in a given year,” he says. “They just keep moving from project to project and rarely take the time to reflect. So by doing this it helps a person to be thoughtful about all of the experiences they had and where they became stronger.

By reflecting on where I’m at both good and bad, I can narrow my focus to actually achievable resolutions and anticipate barriers to success. So maybe I shouldn’t wait until bedtime to take off my makeup, and maybe setting a time to take it off will help me go to bed earlier, because I become obstinate as I get tired.

Resolutions, after all, are targeted strategic missions against yourself.

The constant

I really enjoyed this lecture from Karl Ove Knausgaard, which weaves bookselling, poetry, atoms and the Devil together into a dreamy meditation on what we see and what we can’t, in both the past and future.

That uneasy tension is part of the human condition, and I think this time of year it can bear down upon us with a weight not felt in summer. As we begin a new year and a new decade, let us do so with patience and courage, for ourselves and for others, and consider this as we go forward:

Nothing makes with greater certainty the earth into a hell, than man’s wanting to make it his heaven.” Yet the mutual proximity of insight and destruction tells us nothing of the sequence of these things, and the same Hölderlin wrote something else, which is equally true, in one of his unworldly and exquisite poems: “But where the danger is, also grows the saving power.

And that’s the last Jumpstack for 2019! If you liked it, how about hitting that little heart (I really do appreciate it) and sharing with your friends?

Share The Jumpstack

I’ll be back in January 2020, and I hope to see you there. Happy holidays, and may your New Year bring you good omens to see you through these dark nights ahead.

Adventures in Merry Making

Welcome to this week’s issue of The Jumpstack! This week, we CHRISTMAS. Let’s jump in!

Cookie Monsters

The Great Baking is upon us. Be it school bake sales, company potlucks, or any variety of holiday party, we’ve all been roped into preparing goods for people who are not our immediate family.

While a seemingly simple task, the road to a successful contribution (an empty container at the end) is filled with unseen peril. But fear not! I am a veteran of the Great Baking—and, like Virgil, I shall guide you through with practical tips so that you do not find yourself stuck in a lower level of baking hell.

1. Know what you’re getting into. A few dozen sugar cookies sounds like something you could get done in an hour or two, right? WRONG. This is a multi-day enterprise, my friend. You need to let that dough chill overnight. You have to let those cookies fully cool before you put icing on them. You have to let the icing set on those cookies before putting them into your festive Tupperware. Sugar cookies are an exercise in strategy, endurance, and time management. Before you sign up for a specific item, make sure to give the recipe a good look so you’re not in the kitchen at 3 a.m., crying as you put smiles on snowmen.

2. Do as you’re asked to. This is the number one rule that trips up newbies to the Great Baking every year. You decide you’re not going to just make sugar cookies, you’re going to make the most unexpected, amazing sugar cookie-based confection that will have the other parents weeping at their own mediocrity and the principal begging you to lead the PTA, but you’ll have to decline because you’re now a judge on The Great Canadian Baking Show.

This is a terrible idea.

You’ve been asked to make something specific because it works and people will eat it. You’ve been asked to make/package/deliver it in a certain way because that works with the system already in place. And your fantastic, complicated innovation? Someone already attempted that, and it all ended in tears. People are relying not on your whimsy and creativity, but your basic competency in following instructions. Stick to what you’ve been asked to do: the people in charge will be more than overjoyed that you did.

3. Make more than required. You’re gonna mess up. You’re going to forget about that hot spot in your oven. You’re going to break a few cookies. Your family will eat a percentage of your bakestuffs, regardless of consequences. Making an additional half-batch is risk management: why do you think there’s such a thing as a baker’s dozen? You think you’re better than bakers? Get outta here.

4. Wear a t-shirt. Go ahead, ignore my advice, trust your sleeves. When your hands are covered in dough, and your cuffs are dipping into the bowl and you’re completely helpless, don’t come crying to me.

5. Accept imperfection. If you’ve followed all the previous rules, you’re probably fine. Don’t obsess over your wobbly icing skills or that you won’t be invited to The Great Canadian Baking Show for it: if they had wanted perfection, they would’ve hired catering. You’ve done this for free, so it’s their problem now! You are released from the Great Baking for this year.

What are my trusted cookie recipes? This Sugar Cookie recipe is a no-brainer, and everyone always loves these Chocolate Chip Cookies. Note: these are not “healthy cookies”, they both have real butter and sugar in them, so they are delicious cookies. Enjoy!

Table Manners

We’ve got a table hockey set waiting under the tree this year—yes, the one from Costco.

Table hockey, like ping-pong or crokinole or horseshoes, is one of the official games of the holidays that you play with your extended family (and strangers who claim to be family) as you wait for dinner to be ready.

Inoffensive and requiring just enough dexterity to make it interesting, providing substance for small-talk and camaraderie—and the fact that you can drink between turns—makes it the perfect way to pass the time. But did you know the festive backstory behind the game?

Toronto Sun@TheTorontoSun
The story of table hockey
ow.ly/10u6G2 from @sunhornby

With the story of table hockey’s history, and its Toronto origin, here’s Lance Hornby:

In 1932, with no money for family Christmas gifts, the elder Munro cobbled together a game from spare wood, clothespins, butcher’s wire and drawer knobs from Aikenhead Hardware. A Scottish-born proprietor of a fish and chip store, he chose to make a hockey game rather than football, enlisting some female members of the clan to make the first goal mesh by sewing fine fish nets onto tiny posts. His creation was a kind of two-sided pinball, with levers to move three players with the right hand and a goalie with the left.

By 1971, table hockey was an international sensation, and CBC aired this hilarious segment on the 2nd Annual World Table Hockey Championship in New York City, where everyone is simultaneously taking things very seriously and not seriously at all:

“The T.J. Rudd Trophy, by the way, is older than the Stanley Cup… it was picked up in a Third Avenue antique shop, and we’re told it dates back to the Peloponnesian War.”

Double sauce, please

Chinese food, be it homemade, delivery, or in the restaurant itself, has always been part of my holidays, and I’m not unique in that regard:

This lovely 16-minute documentary goes behind the scenes of King Wok in Kitchener, where a family takes on their annual gargantuan task of feeding Canadians hundreds of pounds of chicken balls. And they do it with humour, patience, and profound love for each other. The film lingers on the dishes long enough to make your mouth water, so beware watching on an empty stomach: you’re liable to change your dinner plans.

Thanks, but no thanks

I loathe returning gifts above all else, and will hold onto them guiltily, rather than go through the process of returning them in-store. But online is a different matter: the experience is so quick and efficient that I don’t fear it.

This article by Davy Alba explains what happens when you send that gift back:

Rejected gifts and returned goods don’t go back on the shelves from which they came. They follow an entirely different logistical path, a weird mirror image of the supply chain that brings the goods we actually want to our doors.

Like Old Joe appraising Scrooge’s bed curtains, the resellers are more than happy to profit from your unwise choices, and as online shopping grows popular with each passing year, their economy from disappointment flourishes.

Queen of Christmas

Every year, Mariah Carey reminds us that she won the holidays years ago with one song that sends millions into her bank accounts every December. She reclines in thick furs and sips hot tea as she watches us mere mortals scramble, and she laughs, refusing to pity us.

You cannot avoid her song when you venture outside, nor the reminder that she gets paid every time you hear it. She can blitz the networks with appearances, or none at all. Mariah Carey puts exactly as much effort as she feels like into Christmas each year, and still comes out ahead: a role model to us all.

So, to end this Jumpstack, enjoy this snippet from Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” As Written by Walt Whitman:

I do not require to hang my stocking
Thereupon the fireplace
My hair, my tongue, every atom in my body form’d from this air
feeds the Yuletide fire
and the very spread of my thighs proclaims noel.

Share The Jumpstack

That’s it for The Jumpstack this week! if you liked it, why not hit that heart down there, or sign up to get it slid directly into your inbox, for free? And next week, we’ll do one more smoke break with your work wife for 2019.

The one in which I get militant

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Jumpstack! And this week, I’m pretty fed up. Let’s jump in!

Armbands and airpods

This weekend, the pedestrian fatality count in Toronto reached a milestone. At 37 for the year, it’s now nearly matched the number of deaths by gun violence.

In both instances, the police are more than happy to blame the victims of crime than protect and serve them: last week, the police handed out reflective arm bands to seniors as a proactive pedestrian-safety measure.

What a patronizing, repugnant insult.

By their own admission, the police have contributed to the swell of injury and death on Toronto’s streets.

They ended a program focused on traffic law enforcement and watched accidents and the death count climb, while refusing to acknowledge the change, and blamed cyclists and pedestrians instead.

We were told we were looking at our phones, listening to music, jaywalking, not taking our own mortality seriously enough.

Recently, the police chief rolled out a new talking point: airpods.


I’ve got an idea for Toronto Police: I want each officer to spend a month out of uniform, working as a school crossing guard. I want them to experience what the crossing guard on a residential side-street experiences each day.

I want them to put on the reflective vest, grab the stop sign, and work a lighted crosswalk and see for themselves how many people blow through active crosswalks with a crossing guard, putting everyone in danger.

I want the police to see that when you don’t have the symbols of police authority on you, and even when you wear the reflective clothing and follow all the rules, you are nevertheless treated as a meat obstacle for drivers, and not as human beings.

I want them to see and experience the danger they have gaslighted us for years about, and continue to do so. I want them to experience the way we do the dangerous city that they cultivated through apathy.

But I don’t think they will.

All attempts to address this issue has been met with petulance. Until there is an organized, city-wide rebuttal and demand for change, the police will continue to blame pedestrians and cyclists. Grandparents and grandchildren will continue to be sacrificed. And the police service will continue to be paid handsomely for it.

Best laid plans

I admired this image when I saw it a few weeks back, but Now Magazine’s Lia Grainger uncovers the much needed context for the intersections in this interesting article on their history, and surprising nature:

Toronto historian Richard White, author of Planning Toronto: The Planners, Their Plans, Their Legacies 1940-80, explains that throughout the city’s history, planners were repeatedly forced to make a choice: demolish an inelegant intersection and rebuild it to increase efficiency, or work around the awkwardness with new regulations, signage and moderate construction. Most chose the latter, resulting in slower, safer and decidedly weirder intersections.

That’s right: despite those intersections being confusing and counterintuitive, they prove to be safer than our most dangerous intersections, which follow the standard design.

While the image of our rejected pretzel intersections may be visually interesting, perhaps a companion image of our perfectly normal deadly intersections and crossings would have an impact on how we perceive where danger might lay.

In cars

Something I hadn’t really thought about until recently was just how much of our infrastructure and modern culture was built in service to the automobile:

In this fascinating longread by Peter Aspden, he chronicles how the car first captured our imaginations, and in turn became an ever-present reality:

The car pandered to our competitive instincts—formal races were organised almost immediately following Benz’s inaugural trip—as well as indulging the tastes of the privileged classes for luxury. It catered for a desire for uniformity—any colour as long as it was black, Ford decreed — but could be customised in highly individual styles. In 1900, the first Michelin guide appeared, with a print run of 35,000. Only 3,000 cars were registered in France at the time. Marketeers were learning how to target aspiration.

That passage reminded me of the AOL discs that accumulated in my mailbox in the mid-’90s—and how the influence of the internet, and later social media, spread and accumulated power over people without accountability.

As we attempt to acknowledge and address the global consequences we created through our century of acquiescence to the car, what mistakes are we repeating?

Say what you mean

I really enjoyed this deep dive on what we talk (and don’t talk) about when we talk about populism—including how we define the term:

Jason Frank explores how we use it for shorthand without considering its true nature, and in doing so obscure the underlying issues that encourage populism to germinate:

Designating populism as the term that best encapsulates the political dangers authoritarianism poses to democratic politics in so many parts of the world today has the additional and unfortunate consequence of suggesting that widespread resistance to these movements should not itself be populist, should not claim the mantle of “we the people” and engage in an antagonistic politics of who we are and what kind of collective power we should wield. This political movement need not recover and rally around the term populism—democratic socialism is also enjoying a new day in the sun—but it should openly recognize that a return to “politics as usual” may be insufficient to confront the full extent of the dangers democracies currently face.

And that’s it for The Jumpstack this week! Thanks for letting me rant, I needed to get it out of my system. If you enjoyed this post, how about hitting that heart down there? I love validation.

Share The Jumpstack

Also: this is the first of the last three Jumpstacks of 2019—I’m aligning my holiday break with the school board’s, and taking more time offline to (hopefully) recharge and explore. Also, do you really expect me to churn this out on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve? That’s madness.

The Jumpstack’s last issue of the year will be December 17, and it will resume on January 7, 2020. Next week: CHRISTMAS.

There, and back again

Welcome back to The Jumpstack, the weekly newsletter where we’re taking a journey: into the lost, the forgotten, where we’re not allowed, and the dark hearts of nerds. Let’s jump in!

Nowhere man

I’m a sucker for a good Canadian mystery, and it seems one has been unfolding before our eyes: the case of Gerry Cotten, a bitcoin trader who died with the passwords to the client fund accounts disappearing with him.

This longread by Nathaniel Rich is one of twists and turns, and people who aren’t what they claim to be, with even the facts of the situation in doubt:

Additional investigations were begun by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the FBI; and at least two other law enforcement agencies that have not been publicly disclosed (though one of them is likely a federal agency in Japan). The most effective and thorough investigation to date, however, has been conducted by anonymous accounts posting on Twitter, Reddit, Pastebin, and Telegram. Their findings, though baroquely technical, could be distilled to a two-word conclusion: Gerry’s alive.

So, if you find yourself wishing the RCMP would dig up Gerry Cotten’s grave already, you’re in good company.

Not here, man

The Odyssey can be seen as a guide of do’s and don’ts for hospitality. This piece by Simon Winchester is one in which Ulysses learns a lesson for guests after they’ve departed.

As he provides us background on the curious island and its inhabitants, Winchester also reflects on his own lack of judgement thirty years ago which led to his banishment, and how his perception on the situation has changed over time:

We have an unceasing capacity to make ourselves nuisances, basically. Students of tourism science can and do construct elaborate theories from physics, of course, invoking such wizards as Heisenberg and the Hawthorne effect and the status of Schrödinger’s cat to explain the complex interactions between our status as tourist-observers and the changes we prompt in the peoples and places we go off to observe. But at its base is the simple fact that in so many instances, we simply behave abroad in manners we would never permit at home: we impose, we interfere, we condescend, we breach codes, we reveal secrets. And by doing so we leave behind much more than footfalls. We leave bruised feelings, bad taste, hurt, long memories.

This isn’t just applicable abroad, but also at home: the same attitudes and behaviours we exhibit here, but we’re less likely to reflect on our day to day interactions than the ones we have on holiday. Perhaps the best way to be a good guest or tourist is to be a good host and neighbour first.

Not here right now

But who are we neighbours with?

This interview with Tara Westover, by Jeffrey Goldberg, is about the American urban/rural divide. But there’s a lot that Canadians can identify with, particularly after our recent federal election.

As opinion pieces about western alienation and Wexit continue to be printed, and we now have a Minister of Middle Class Prosperity, it’s clear there is a division—and that we are unclear on how address it.

Part of the problem may be our capacity to retreat into our communities at the expense of engaging with other groups, and relying on self-affirming tropes until our ideas about others become caricature.

This isn’t an urban or rural issue—it’s actually both of those things:

You can get a better education in a city; you can learn more technical skills, and more about certain types of culture. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to believe that there are many ways a person can be parochial. Now I define parochial as only knowing people who are just like you—who have the same education that you have, the same political views, the same income.

When we no longer engage with people as individuals, but as concepts, our ability to connect and work together is compromised. But before we can actually engage, we require empathy—which means challenging the concepts we’ve invested ourselves in.

Right here, not now

I was mesmerized by this short film on Toronto from 90 years ago:

The city looks short and flat compared to today, and I cackled when the film boasted of skyscrapers as part of Toronto’s fame. Rush hour is only slightly less congested, and the streetcars fly by.

To see Toronto almost a century ago is to feel the ache of wanting to enjoy things you never had the chance to, like the Sunnyside Amusement Park. It leaves me wondering whether people in the 2100s will long for what we have now:

I expect they will laugh at our skyscrapers.

Share The Jumpstack

And that’s it for The Jumpstack! If you liked this edition, hit that heart button below. See you in your inbox next week for yet another smoke break with your work wife.


Left to our own devices

Welcome to this week’s issue of The Jumpstack! This week, we’re on our own. Let’s jump in!

You said you didn’t give a fuck about hockey

The conversation around hockey continues across Canada, after a week of accusations, acrimony, and apologies.

And yet, a Saturday night without Cherry’s two minutes of bluster has come and gone, and so has a controversy over The Social co-host Jessica Allen venting about the hockey culture she experienced in high school.

What remains is the fact that there are issues with entitlement, wealth and race that are contributing to hockey’s decline as our national pastime.

As the middle class hollows out, and austerity practices emaciate institutions and social programs, hockey has become inaccessible to those who don’t have the ever-increasing means required to play.

So, this three-year-old article resonates even more than before:

It hasn’t always been this way — particularly when it comes to hockey. As recently as the 1970s, most professional players came from families in which fathers worked in farming, fishing, logging or blue collar trades, adds Gruneau, a professor in Simon Fraser University’s school of communications. For example, the father of Wayne Gretzky—the widely acknowledged greatest player of all time—wasn’t an executive, but a Bell Telephone repairman. “Few families in similar circumstances are likely to send a player to the pros today.”

In his Saturday night address to the nation, Ron MacLean was clearly still processing what had happened, had no easy answers, and hoped some good would come out of the situation.

Perhaps it is the fact that we can now grant attention and time to issues in hockey other than Don Cherry’s latest gaffe is the unexpected benefit to the game itself.

True Grit

Michael Ungar takes self-help to task in this interview with CBC’s Tapestry, arguing that the focus on self-help and do-it-yourself personal improvement as an individual activity and not a collective one is ultimately limiting:

We’ve really got to open this conversation. Otherwise, we slip into this dangerous territory where we think that our individual grit, our individual perseverance is all on our shoulders and our responsibility. There’s been this real push to ask people to heal themselves, and yet I [found] that we are better when the world around us makes it possible.

He also discusses the impact of helicopter parenting on the resiliency of children, and how the inability to attempt and fail results in a lack of confidence and anxiety.

While we need to be able to achieve things on our own, we also need to be able to access supportive systems so that we know we are not alone.

Let’s get bored

“Turn off and tune out” may sound like simple advice, but it’s harder than it seems.

In this interview with Rebecca Jennings, author Chris Bailey argues that the distractions we indulge in on social media erodes our self control and personal productivity as those companies profit from it:

Social media companies are just so good at predicting our behaviour and what we want to do with our time, and they present us with the most prescient thing in that moment. I think there is a point at which we begin to lose control of our behaviours, especially when they hijack the mechanisms of our mind and cater to our basal desire for novelty and pleasure and threat.

As a society, we need to be very concerned, because companies such as Google and Facebook and Twitter are making money off of the fact that we lose control of our behaviour when we use their applications. Our attention is theirs.

Bailey suggests putting down your phone for two weeks—not as a way to increase your productivity, but to experience focus without distraction.

Allow yourself to be bored. You might get something out of it.

A word after a word

Last weekend, I met up with a friend at Hot Docs Cinema for a screening of Margaret Atwood: A Word after a Word after a Word is Power, with tickets provided by Firefly Creative Writing.

The documentary follows Atwood as she makes her way around Europe, reviewing her life and focusing primarily on The Handmaid’s Tale and how the novel is resonating decades after publication.

For a Canadian audience, much of this is well-worn territory: many of us had Atwood as required reading in high school. But for American audiences, she’s far more of a mystery.

The film capitalizes on this through segments on her childhood in the wilderness and her rise as a feminist voice in the CanLit of the ’60s and ’70s, giving us a glimpse into the Toronto of that era and the people who would become giants in the scene.

When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I was discovering Atwood’s earlier work, while Alias Grace was ascendant. Starting with The Edible Woman, I devoured one work after another, delighted when she touched on something I identified with—and uncomfortable when she prodded at it.

These books dealt with relationships between men and women, women with women, and children with each other that recognized the casual cruelty exchanged, and they were refreshing.

A Word after a Word after a Word is Power touches on Atwood’s own relationships, and there is a slight bit of whiplash as focus switches between her family to the dystopian themes of The Handmaid’s Tale: you kind of want the film to just follow Atwood around as she dances from one event to the next.

And that’s the real takeaway from the documentary: that Atwood has more energy at 80 than you do, and even if she had never received the acclaim, her boundless enthusiasm to her work would have remained the same.

(Margaret Atwood: A Word after a Word after a Word is Power airs tonight at 9 p.m. on the Documentary Channel.)

Share The Jumpstack

And that’s it for The Jumpstack this week! If you enjoyed it, how about hitting that heart and rewarding me with a hit of dopamine? See you next week!

Loading more posts…