Our Responibilities

I used to be a closeted homophobe.

I’m not sure if it was the words of my elders and my upbringing or if it was the music I listened to. Either way, it happened, and it happened so subtly that I didn’t notice it.

I was first (knowingly) introduced to a gay person in high school. He had similar interests and even loved the same music. We had become friends very quickly, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of discomfort that I held inside of me. What was making me feel this?

I picked up on some popular quotes that homophobes say. Things like, “I don’t mind if you’re gay, jut don’t do that stuff in front of me!” and “Just don’t hit on me and we’re cool, alright?” I also used the word “fag” and “gay” as synonyms for “idiot” and “stupid” respectively. I realized that I had felt uncomfortable with him because I was saying these things behind his back. It had nothing to do with him, it had everything to do with me.

Growing up as a black male, I was lucky that I didn’t face as much blatant discrimination as you would hear about in American media, but I still faced it. People would call me “white-washed” because I spoke “proper” English. I would be called white for my taste in music and, questionably, for having higher grades. Hearing those things hurt. I always did my best to hide it, but I could only imagine that if I didn’t find my small group of close friends, I would be a completely different person. Much, much angrier.

It was only later that I understood that many people go through the same shit. Being discriminated against for something that you can’t control, and harassed until you feel numb. I realized that I was in the same column as the people who made fun of me. I was just as responsible as them for how I made others feel. My words, whether I said them to someone’s face, or behind their backs, were my responsibility. I had to let go of that terrible habit.

Ideally, our private lives and our social lives should reflect each other. When you live your life congruently, it means that you have a healthy set of boundaries. Forcing myself to speak my mind and calling out people on bad behaviour is still something that have trouble with. What I do know, is that the more I work on this particular aspect of my life, the less stressed I feel, because I don’t have to worry about living two different lives.

Almost everything that I do is a reflection of who I am and what I believe in, from the conversations I have with my family and friends, to the music that I listen to. I am, by definition, a minority and I am responsible for the equal treatment of minorities. People that I have worked with are part of the LGBTQ community and my best friend is a lesbian. In the end, I am responsible for the feelings of the people closest to me.

Being anything less than stellar is a betrayal to them, and to myself.

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I want Instant Noodles

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Mr. Noodles, Nong-shim and about a million other brands make up the instant noodle market. I grew up eating Mr. Noodles on a weekly basis, paired with my mom’s tender soup, packed with chicken or beef. I never counted calories then, but even when I started, I could never give up on those deep fried strings of shame. What is it that draws me to them? Could it be the low, low cost of .50 cents per package? Or maybe it’s the wide-variety of flavors that I can get, ranging from spicy beef, to a nondescript chicken flavoring that may or may not contain real chicken, to the vegetable flavor that only plebs can modestly munch on.

Or maybe it’s that sweet, salty, savory flavor.

You know what really solidified my addiction? When I learned to stop microwaving the noodles and start boiling them on the pot. I don’t know if it made much of a flavor change, but the consistency in each and every one of those edible shoelaces made it worthwhile to chew on. If I’m really desperate, sometimes I will even drink that leftover, spicy salt water that will dehydrate me, leaving me a pathetic shell of my former self. And if I’m feeling really fancy one day, I’ll even cook my own meat and mix it in, thus concocting a mess that will render me useless for half a day. 

I know it’s a craving that won’t go away. Mr. Noodles introduced me to the world of instant noodles, and Nong-shim never ceases to let me leave that world. Boiled in a small pot, then draining the water and adding your factory-made seasoned packets of fake flavoring, and stirring it in. I wouldn’t give it up for the world. And to all of you other instant noodle makers, don’t give up the good fight. Nobody stays a champion forever, and all of you have the ability to dethrone the Korean king. 

Now send me a package of those goddamn salty spaghetti slivers so I can immediately regret it. 

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How I let Tinder crush my motivation

My name is D’Tanga, and I was a Tinderholic.

Yelling from the top of digital buildings (read: my Facebook statuses), I used to say that the advancement of technology is outstanding, especially for socializing. I still believe that to this day. 

Forget about the Android vs iPhone vs Windows Phone (but really, who uses Windows Phone?) debates. The amazing thing to be realized is that these miniaturized computers, regardless of operating system, can be used to socialize with people around the world INSTANTLY.

When Tinder came ‘round, I wasn’t even aware of its existence. I had dabbled in other online dating websites like OKCupid and PlentyOfFish but nothing really came from it. I’m sure that they are effective tools but I didn’t have the motivation or the patience to write paragraphs about myself. I mean, what the hell am I supposed to say when it asks me to fill in a section called “About Yourself”? That shit probably changes every few months at the rate I’m going. 

Then, through one channel or another that I don’t exactly remember, I discovered Tinder. The concept is pretty simple. Find someone attractive? Swipe right. You don’t? Swipe left. Are you wondering why their profile picture is of them crying into a napkin while eating a spoonful of peanut butter? Tap on their face to read their profile and you might get an explanation. If you swipe right on somebody and they swipe right on you, you get a mysterious and alluring notification that says “New Tinder Match”, that makes your heart race just a little more than normal. Sometimes you remember the person you swiped right on, sometimes you don’t.

So I signed up. It’s so easy anyway, just let this private, no-name company take my Facebook information and populate my profile et voila! 

I started swiping right to anybody I found remotely attractive. I was more shallow than a puddle but hey, so was everyone else on the app. I would swipe right to whatever amount of people I felt like and then go do something else. I usually got nothing, but when I did get a match, I got a slight rise of glee out of it. 

My time on Tinder over the years was interesting. Yes, I met amazing people who I built connections with and I wouldn’t take that back for anything. But the constant use of Tinder started to affect my view of myself. If I didn’t get a match for a while, I would contemplate my entire profile, as if that was somehow an accurate representation of myself. Sometimes I would talk with someone and it would seem like it was going somewhere, then all of a sudden, one of us would just stop talking for one reason or another. Then I would wonder if I said something wrong. 

The worst part of this entire experience though, was the idea that I ended up relying on Tinder for my dating experiences. Because I could charm my matches with my romantic digital words (jks), I had no motivation to go out and meet ACTUAL people. In my head, it made sense. Swiping right to 10 girls was a lot quicker then going up to one girl and having a conversation, and it felt a lot less risky.

Let me just interject by saying this: The only time it should be easier to communicate your intentions online versus in person, is when you’re speaking a foreign language and you need to use Google Translate to get your message across. 

When I began to notice that I was rationalizing the idea of Tinder over real-life communication, I immediately deleted the Tinder app and my account. 

When I told my friends this, some had argued to me that it can simply be used to supplement your already existing dating life. While that may be true, I have stated before that I am an all-or-nothing person. It’s the reason why I quit drinking for one year. It’s the reason why I quit again. 

I still believe that the communicative technology coming out is a beautiful thing. I also believe that many people can benefit from tools like these. I recognize though, that it’s not always for me. I think I’m gonna stick to talking to people in person. 

At least until virtual reality Tinder comes out. 

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There was that time I quit drinking for 1 year

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Alcohol. It’s positives and negatives are debated on almost a daily basis but I will safely assume that most adults (and teenagers, let’s be real) drink regularly. Some use it as liquid courage (and it’s referred to as such in some cases) while others may do it to simply enhance their mood. Some like the taste, others feel pressured into doing it. Myself? It was probably a little bit of column A, B, C and D and being in university didn’t make it easier. The bars were right there and I wanted to meet new people (read: girls). The best way I came to do that was grabbing a drink with some friends and hanging out.

I had experienced hangovers before. Painful, dreadful and healed with shawarmas (the kebabs of Toronto), McDonalds or next-morning, pan-fried, greasy-ass eggs. Hangovers never stopped me. I would wake up, groggy and profess: “I will NEVER drink again.” Then, a few days later, my buddies and I were sharing a pitcher.

It wasn’t until I looked at myself in the mirror one winter morning that I really saw what this lifestyle was doing to me. My waistline had become a waste line. Just a stomach filled with all the garbage I had been feeding it. And on that one winter morning, I once again professed to myself: “I will NEVER drink again.” 

My own mind quickly brought me back down to earth. “C’mon man,” I said to myself. “You’re not going to actually stop drinking forever.” And damn, my mind was right. But I wasn’t going to go down without a fight. That’s when I decided: “I will not drink for 1 year.” 

Making a commitment like that to yourself isn’t easy, but I held myself to it. For the entire year of 2013, I was not going to drink a sip of alcohol. Boom. Done. No excuses.

I will preface this story by saying: This was a life changing year.

—–

To be honest, it wasn’t that hard. I’m a pretty talkative person and I love meeting new people, so the “liquid courage” aspect of alcohol was unnecessary in the first place. I’m also lucky to be a person of extremes. If I’m happy, I’m usually really happy. If I’m sad, I’m really sad. If I’m zen, then I’m SUPER zen. But no matter the mood, the mood enhancement part wasn’t needed. The taste? Domestic beers: enough said. I wasn’t in it for the taste. What really made this adventure difficult was the social pressure. This realization was the beginning of a whole ‘nother part of my life. 

I still wanted to hang out with my friends, but being the only not one drinking can be awkward. Super awkward at times even. The people I were around were REALLY trying hard to figure out why I didn’t want to drink. 

“Dude, just drink one beer, that’s it.”
“Why aren’t you drinking, you sick or something?”
“How are you having fun without drinking?”

I couldn’t even blame them for the questions. In their minds, I was willingly removing myself from having fun. To alleviate this, I tried to use different excuses at times because I had told nobody that I committed myself to not drink for one year. I said that I was poor (which wasn’t true), I said that I was gaining weight (that’s true) and I said that I would drink next time with them (never happened). 

As I kept on going out though, I started to realize that without drinking, there was this thing called Time that kept passing. When I got drunk, the night would reach 3AM before I even realized it. When I didn’t drink, I was honestly getting tired at 12AM and 1AM. I started leaving my social gatherings earlier because I was tired, or because I just didn’t feel like taking care of the people who got obnoxiously drunk. 

My weight loss was going okay, but I was still plagued by the simplicity and accessibility of fast food. My realization of this is where the true changes began. 

Because I wasn’t staying out late, I wasn’t eating an additional, greasy meal twice or three times a week. In addition, my body was getting more rest because I was actually sleeping at somewhat regular hours. Halfway through the year, I stopped going out 3 times a week and started going out once per two weeks at most. I started focusing on going to the gym and running more. 

This resulted in one of the biggest changes I ever experienced.

After those 4 months, I was a completely different person, both physically and mentally. I was much much happier than I was before. I looked the best I had ever looked, and I got a great job with an amazing company. The best part about all of this was that because of this job, I was able to study on exchange in Sweden for 6 months. Living in Sweden had been a dream of mine, and I finally achieved it when I committed myself to losing weight.

But I would only lose that weight because I changed my lifestyle.

The only reason I changed my lifestyle was because I stopped drinking.

Fast forward to the end of 2013: I was fit, happy, and ready to go to Sweden. The one thought that kept swirling in my head was: “Are you going to start drinking again?” 

Well my friends, I did start drinking again. The good news is that it didn’t change my lifestyle that much. I was still fit, happy and living in Sweden.

Luckily, in Sweden and in Toronto, alcohol is expensive and it’s not very accessible (thank god for LCBO and Systembolaget). This made the entire process of losing weight and keeping it off fairly easy. I was doing well with this until December 2014.

That’s when I went to Belgium. 

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The Great Perhaps

Recently, I came across this concept of a lifestyle that made me feel comfortable, because it accepted that not everything you do has to end up being large and impactful. It conceded to the idea of the butterfly effect. As my favorite comic, One Piece, said ever so eloquently:

“Even a tsunami that levels an entire city, has its humble beginnings as an inconspicuous ripple in the water.”

For the past few weeks, I felt like I was in a state of social comatose. Somehow I got it in my head that every single thing that I did every day had to make a big difference in my life or that it wasn’t worth doing. But life is dynamic. Expecting to have something exciting and life-changing happen on a regular basis is tantamount to Albert Einstein’s definition of Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

This is where The Great Perhaps comes in.

This concept says that every action you take should simply be done for the possibility of the end result you’re looking for. It’s keeping a “Glass-half-full” mentality around all of the things that you want to do. Yes, you can simply stay in your room, texting away on your phone, or you can go outside for a quick walk and do the same thing anyway. The latter would provide you with the possibility of finding something useful, or meeting somebody interesting. 

This is not stating that it will happen. In fact, there’s probably a small chance of something like that happening. But if you keep on doing something like this repeatedly, there’s a higher chance that something positive may actually happen. If you decided to go for a walk every day for a week, there’s a high chance that you may discover something cool happening (note: this is how I discovered a weekly local farmer’s market 10 minutes from my home). 

It doesn’t have to be a big change in your lifestyle, which is what I think a lot of people are afraid of. It simply has to be a small change. And that small change can have the butterfly effect that you have been searching for.

…perhaps. 

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Why we make bad decisions

Living a good life doesn’t seem that complicated. If you want to stay healthy, eat right and exercise regularly. If you want to have good friends, start talking to people and eventually someone will vibe with you. If you want to be rich, save money and make sound investments. I mean, obviously these things can be more complicated, and it takes education to be able to pull them off, but it’s not impossible. And yet in the United States, the average household owes over $7000 on their credit cards and although the fitness industry increases in value every year, the rate of adult obesity is also increasing.

Now, I’m no statistician and you can probably poke some holes in my 10 minutes of research, but the point I’m trying to drive home is that it seems like more money and time is being invested into ourselves, but there are no results to show for it. Why is this? Why do we keep on making bad decisions? To answer that, I must say that that I don’t believe that people intentionally make bad decisions a majority of the time. My belief is that we simply put ourselves in the position to make bad decisions. I’m only 23 so I’ll use an example that some people my age can relate to.

Have you ever talked to someone who has said something along the lines of, “I’m sick of all of this drama and gossip in my life”? And yet, they continue to hang out with the same people that talk shit about their classmate or their ex-girlfriend. Or here’s another one. When people say that they want to lose weight, but then they go every night with their friends, drink beer and eat nachos, and continue to complain about their stomach. Once again, they put themselves in a position where making a bad decision is much easier to do.

I believe that your position determines your actions. This is why the best fitness advice sometimes is to just go to the gym. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you put yourself in a position to make a good decision. Maybe you can walk on a treadmill, or ask that really fit girl for tips. The point is, it’s harder to eat shit on a couch when you’re in a gym full of sweaty people. Just like it’s harder to be around gossip if your friends are talking about how to improve their lives. It’s harder to be poorer if you spend your time with people who are always looking for new ways to make money. This applies much of our lives.

Change your surroundings to change your habits. It’s pretty simple.

And that’s what makes it hard.

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Your Life’s Ecosystem

In the technology world, companies are shown to have a certain range of success, depending on the strength of their ecosystem. Using the much-lauded Apple as an example, you can visualize their success by understanding that they own many aspects of their company. They own and develop iOS, they design their own phones, they design their processors, and they also own their own advertising and PR firms. (This, of course, is just touching the surface but I wouldn’t want to bore you with a list of what they do.) Because of this, they are able to control their destiny more closely than a company like, say, HTC, who relies on Qualcomm for their CPUs, hires external firms for advertising, etc.

For simplicity’s sake, I would define an ecosystem as “the amount of control one has over their own “components.” What are components? Well, as I walked into my office, grabbed a banana and made myself a cup of coffee, I realized that components can be anything you control in your life. 

You see, every morning, you can write down your order for a sandwich and have it delivered to you at lunchtime. It’s a convenience that we seem to take for granted sometimes, but the issue here is that you don’t control how exactly your sandwich is made. For those who have worked on losing weight or gaining muscle, you know how important calories and macro nutrients (protein, fats and carbohydrates) are. With the right balance and the right amount of physical activity, you can transform your body into a slim super model or the Hulk. 

Now here’s where the concept of an ecosystem comes into play. Many people don’t have control over their “components”. Many times, the food they eat is not made by them so they don’t know the macro and micro nutrient count. What could be advertised as “healthy” could easily be packed with useless calories. Some people like to go to the gym (I love it), but another limitation arises with closing hours. My gym is only open for 9 hours on the weekend so if I miss out on that (albeit, large) timeframe, then I don’t get to pump any iron. And even then, the gym may not have the exact equipment I need to achieve the goals that I want. 

Owning your ecosystem in fitness means that you own all components. It means that you cook your own food and that you know exactly what goes into it. It means that you may own your own equipment instead of going to the gym, because you’ll have exactly what you need. While this may not all be necessary for most, it inevitably increases your chance of success.

And this applies to dating as well. You can’t force someone to like you, but you can definitely make it easier to be likeable. When you’re going out with someone, you can control many components of that date. You get to agree with them on where to go, you get to choose your haircut, your clothes, you get to choose how you get there, etc. I’ve been late for dates because I’ve used public transport. Being late for a date just looks bad in general. Now, if I had a driver’s license and a car, the chances of me being late would be significantly decreased.

Try and imagine how your components fit into your life. It’s the difference between working for someone and running your own business. It’s the difference between looking presentable and looking like a scene out of The Walking Dead. It’s the differences being made when you rent an apartment versus owning your own house.

We all control the components in our life. This is important to understand because they are not independent of one another. They work together.

That, ladies and gentleman, is why it’s called an ecosystem. 

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The Simple Plan

Throughout my short life, I’ve wanted to be so many things that now when I look back, I realize it was actually insane. I wasn’t alone though. There are many people that want to be many things, or at least they want the “prestige” of a certain accomplishment or career. I was (and to a certain extent, still am) the same. Everything I wanted to be was simply something that I could show off to other people. To show that I “made it” so that other people could recognize it. I’m not here to judge whether those reasons are good or not, but the issue arises where the amount of effort you’re willing to put in is completely different from your need for that feeling of accomplishment. 

In my case, I had no interest in actually putting in the work. In essence, I was living in a dream land where I could show everything off, without having to put in the work. The problem is that it’s ridiculously difficult to accomplish something if you don’t love the process of doing it. That’s why I look back at all of my previous ideas, and while I started them at some point, I never finished them. It’s why I’m probably not made out to be the CEO of a tech start-up in Silicon Valley, or a world class photographer, or a movie producer. While these things sound awesome in my head, I guess the process wasn’t exciting enough.

This is why I’ve opted for a simple plan. The idea is for me to go back to my essential wants and needs and see what I can do in my life to accomplish those things. An example is my adoration of hearing stories. While travelling, I have heard the stories of many people around the world. Some stories left me in awe while some left me feeling grateful for what I have. When I hear these stories though, I really get a sense of perspective and I feel like I understand a person, a nation or a culture just a little bit more. So, if I were to either start a business or work somewhere, this place should, in theory, be a place where people share their stories. 

And this can apply to many different parts of my life. It doesn’t have to be stories, it can be the fact that I enjoy photography. If that’s the case, maybe I should work in a city where capturing beautiful shots is just around the corner.

In any case, the first idea is for me to understand my wants and needs. After that, I can start scheduling my life. It may not net me the highest paying job or the best hours, but if it makes me happy on a very basic level, then I should be happier in the long run.

In theory.  

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The Fun in Language Learning

In Grade 4, I had to start taking French class. It was great! The teacher was nice, the tasks weren’t tedious like my science classes and overall, it was fun. Fast forward to the end of Grade 9, French classes were no longer mandatory. After that, I stopped taking French. To this day, I still remember my reasoning for ceasing classes:

“I don’t need to learn French, I’m never going to use it.”

It’s funny. I thought this made so much sense when I was 14. I mean, I didn’t care that knowing another language would help me advance in the workplace or that it would help me more with my communication; my only thought was that I was going to live in Toronto for the rest of my life, where it is seldom spoken. So what reason did I have to learn it?

At that time, I made the mistake that knowing another language was meant solely for a workplace setting or for a social setting. Of course, language is used to communicate with people but there are more subtleties than I was previously aware of.

Right now, I’m focusing on learning Spanish. I’ve been learning for the past 8 months with the help of my friends from Spain, Colombia and Mexico, as well as free services such as Duolingo and LanguageTransfer.org. Thanks to my friends and these services, I’ve been able to learn more about the advantages of language learning that aren’t discussed much. For example, just the process of learning another language has brought me closer with other people.

During my exchange, I learned that the common spoken language between nations was English. While this was advantageous to myself, I realized that there was an invisible barrier between myself and some others. I realized then that barrier was there because some people didn’t feel comfortable speaking English. After that, I dedicated my time to start learning another language…any language really. It’s not right that language should be a barrier to an amazing friendship or even more. The main reason I wanted to learn another language in the first place was that so I could become closer with the native speakers. The good thing is that many people enjoy teaching what they know to others. I’m very grateful to have friends who would tutor me and I’ve grown closer with many of them. Practicing, making mistakes and having a laugh about it afterward makes for a fun process and makes me appreciate them even more.

The second advantage is increased awareness. You know what it’s like when you start focusing on something, and it starts appearing in your life more? Well, that’s exactly what I mean. I recall a few weeks ago, I was taking the TTC and a man who only knew how to speak Spanish was asking for something. When I realized he was speaking Spanish, I focused and was excited that I could understand some of what he was saying. “Tengo que ir a un edificio alto.” or something like that. He was simply trying to get to his new construction site. Fortunately, because I understood, I was able to help him get to his job. As embarrassing as it sounds, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of glee because I was able to apply my learning in a positive manner. On the other side, it was fun to overhear two women last week who were conversing about my very yellow shoes.

Also, even though I wasn’t expecting it, I’ve learned more about English and its roots by learning Spanish. I’ve learned the background of many English words and phrases that I wouldn’t have understood before. It’s thanks to the similarities both languages share with Latin.

This process is exciting, even though I’m nowhere near a native level speaker or listener. I don’t think that matters though. The essence of taking the time to learn another language exercises your discipline, your patience and toughens your skin for making more mistakes. In essence, if you take it seriously, it makes you more vulnerable which is always a good thing. Humility is wonderful and I don’t think I can learn to be more humble than when I learn my limits.

While Spanish is fun, I will divulge into learning other languages in the future. I have a lot more to learn about communication and myself and learning another language is a clear pathway to doing so.

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No, you’re not allowed to be bored

Last week, I went on an aimless walk in northern Toronto because I was “bored”. I walked for three hours. Three. Hours.

It all started when my travel plans got postponed. I had everything planned, only to have everything pushed back a month or two. It’s not the end of the world, but because I hadn’t planned anything beforehand, I found myself playing Asphalt 8 on my iPad for a whopping 6 hours…because I was bored.

Here’s the problem with this:

I happen to live in Toronto, the largest and most populated city in all of Canada. Like many other big cities, Toronto has a LOT going on. By saying I’m bored, I may as well be spitting in the face of the city. It’s basically admitting that I can’t find ANYTHING to do, even though you can take a ton of courses, play ping pong, meet people at bars, try new food, see new scenery, see your friends, go for a run, volunteer at a soup kitchen, see a comedy show, see a play, see a hockey/basketball/whatever-your-favourite-sport-is…and that’s just naming a few things you can do OUTSIDE. On your smartphone alone, you can learn a new language, watch documentaries, play games, and even Tinder!

In other words, I’m full of shit.

I know many people who have worked hard to be in the same position I’m in now. By saying I’m bored, I’m disrespecting the insane amount of opportunities that I have at my fingertips. So no, I’m not allowed to be bored. And the same applies to you.

You’re not allowed to be bored. Go do something.

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