The Community of Frank

Frank hosted a bbq last night.  Donna cooked.  The rest of us living in the house hung out and partook.  Lucia & Lily couldn’t make it.  Didn’t see Greg either.  It was still a good time.

In Regina, I lived in my building downtown for over five years.  Didn’t learn one neighbour’s name.  Here in TO, in this supposed cold, self-centred city, in Franks 10 unit rooming house, we all know each other.

It’s all Frank’s doing too.  It’s not typical for people in Toronto to know their neighbours well either.  He’s the one who brings us all together.  He makes us feel like a community.

My yesterday was reasonably productive.  I completed a demo reel of nominee vignettes I’ve done for different events and awards shows.  I’m targeting event planners in Toronto with this demo.  Today will see more research and follow-up towards this endeavour.

I have to return Jazzy’s books to the library today as well.  I think I’ll use the opportunity to check out a sci-fi novel.  Get a better handle on the genre.  I’ve been studying the craft of story telling intently for the past three years.  I’ve read numerous scripts (some many times over).  Methinks reading a novel might be a good thing to do as well.

Speaking of story telling, I will be attending a short film festival tonight.  I got the tickets last week and wasn’t sure who’d I’d be bringing.  Figured it out though when Frank drove by this morning.  I was outside reading the internet, and he stopped to say hi.

I’m thinking I’m going to head out towards Carlton Cinemas right away.  I’m sure there’s a library nearby, and a coffee shop yet nearbyier.  I figure Frank can meet me out that way tonight, and we can attend from there.

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Toronto to Myself

I have Toronto all to myself now.  Put Jazzy on a plane last night.  Wasn’t as bittersweet as it had been in times past – I’ll be seeing her again within a month. On the way to the airport, she joked about wanting to miss the plane.  It warmed my heart.

Having her stay with me is completely easy.  There’s never any yelling, or nagging, or frustrations even.  We get just along and get done what needs doing.  Seldom do we even have a plan.

My favourite moments with her are the silent ones, where we just exchange a look, and know with a smile, exactly what the other is thinking.  There have been more than a handful of those.

We went to the Jays’ game Monday night with my friend Renee.  I speak frequently of Jazzy whenever her and I are together, and I was excited for those two to meet.  They talked practically non-stop.  Renee told me afterwards how impressed she was with Jazzy.  The feeling was mutual.

Today feels like a good time to get started on the next big thing.  I wasn’t as productive as I could have been over the passed week, because I didn’t want to squander my precious time with Jazz in town.  I can put my nose down now and get to work.

There are no editing projects in my immediate future, so I’m left with time to set up meetings, and get some writing done.  I’d really like to use this time to make a dent in my novel.  If I work at even half the pace I moved at when I wrote my script in Regina, it will add up to significant progress.

It’s an exciting time to see what I can make of the next 30 days.

The Fallacy of Perception in the Art of Swag

Here’s an article I published yesterday on argosadmirals.com

***

by JARRETT RUSNAK

The light glistening off his bling was almost too much.  Chains.  Rings.  Studs.  Earrings.  Nose rings.  I didn’t even want to speculate about other piercings that may have been present, but hidden.

Crap.  I just did.

The fact of the truth is that Aaron Rabinovits, Communications Intern with the Toronto Argonauts, is a rather intimidating lad to behold.  He’s even got one of those beards that’s razor thin, and you can tell that it takes longer for him to trim and maintain it, than it does for him to shower.

I’ve always felt you could peg a guy such as Aaron, as being rather unsavoury – to put it politely.  Real men don’t spend more than 10 minutes in a bathroom unless they’ve first walked in with a magazine.

“His wardrobe choices are at the best times… well… questionable,” said Maxmillien Rosenberg, Digital Media Coordinator with the Argonauts.  “I’m all for expressing oneself through clothing choices, but one does not simply wear the same black suit everyday… especially with the same pair of navy socks and the terrible purple watch that my girlfriend had in middle school.”

Fortunately, perception is clearly NOT the same thing as reality.   I couldn’t have been more wrong about the impeccability of Aaron’s character.  Stand up guy.  I’d trust him with many things that are semi-important to me.  He’s passionate about his work, and he makes everyone around him better.  He’s a super duper nice guy as well.

Max put it thusly, “A hard worker he is, a fashionista he is not.”

***

“What the F*%k is a ‘onesie’?” Aaron asked, as the light shining through his beer cast a hue upon his bling.  I had just sat down next to him, in a pub on King West, to broach the subject.

“A onesie,” I said, “you know, for babies to wear.”

“You want to stamp an Argos’ logo on one?”

“No!,” I said, “Don’t they have those for sale somewhere already?”

“Huh?”

“The Roughriders have motor oil.”

“The f*^k you talking about?”

“Shot glasses.  Underwear.  Coffee cups.  Can openers.  Patio furniture.  Pickup trucks.  And baby onesies.”  I paused for a moment to check in with him, but the blank look on Aaron’s face spoke volumes.  I continued, speaking slower this time, so that the thickness of my Regina accent would not obscure my words.  “The Roughriders are selling over $10 million dollars worth of merchandise every year.  Anything that anyone would ever want to buy, can already be found somewhere in Saskatchewan with a Roughrider logo stamped to its side.”

He pondered that for a moment.  “That’s just because you guys are weird.”

***

I don’t blame Aaron for not being able to relate to the Roughriders’ penchant for merchandise.  As the ‘perceived’, 4th most popular team in the GTA, one doesn’t see a lot of Argos’ swag on the streets.  I don’t recall seeing much of it in stores either, though Argos’ Marketing Coordinator, Jessica Taylor was able to point me (and you) in a direction.

“Argos fans can purchase Argos merchandise at the Jays Shop at Rogers Centre and CFLshop.ca.  Other retailers such as Walmart, Target and various independent retailers carry some Argos merchandise.”

It’s a start methinks, but that’s still a long ways away from my experience with Rider swag in Regina.  Perhaps there’s more to it than mere availability.

Beyond the hardcore fan base, wearing the double blue just doesn’t seem to mean as much to the people of Toronto, as green and white does to those sporting addresses from the ‘Land of the Living Skies’.

***

This wasn’t always so however.  I remember a time when wearing a Roughrider logo around Regina prompted scorn and ridicule.  In the 1990s, the province’s fortunes seemed to mirror the team’s, and nobody wanted to be reminded of hard times.

It took a fundamental push, a concerted effort, a shift in the cultural thinking – to change what Roughrider swag meant to the people of Saskatchewan.  We came to see that we weren’t just showing Rider Pride when we bought a jersey, we were fundamentally ‘supporting’ OUR team.  Every dollar we spent, went to our community owned team’s bottom line.

Once the Roughriders’ bottom line began to stabilize with contributions from merchandise sales, something else began to change in the cultural mindset of the Rider Nation – another shift in perception.

Roughrider merchandise became a symbol for something greater than one’s relationship to the team.  It became a statement about one’s own character.

***

Saskatchewan is not the GTA.  The community owned Roughriders are not the privately owned Argonauts.  There are major challenges in Toronto, that the Roughriders will never have to deal with.  Still, there is much the Argos could learn from the Roughriders in terms of merch.

As with Aaron Rabinovitz, the Argos are fighting a ‘perception’ problem.  Double blue needs to transcend the team – to become a statement about who Torontonians are, and what they stand for – whether they attend games or not.  Argo swag has to become a statement about character.

If only there were some major figure in the city somewhere who could go around getting himself photographed in an Argos’ sweatshirt.

Perhaps the photograph could go viral.  Perhaps it could become so popular, it gets picked up as a story on major US networks – and every time someone in the media would mention the story, the Argos’ logo would be there, featured prominently, being associated with whatever the media types were talking about.

That is character!  Maybe then, Torontonians would rush in and drape themselves in the double blue – wanting to be characters too – and the city would emerge as a vast double blue sea of Argo swag.

If only we could be so lucky.

***

Of course, we must all be careful for what we wish for.

Throughout  the 1980s and 90s, the Los Angeles Raiders were the number two selling brand in the NFL.  According to an article by Tim Goldman in the NY Times, it was for reasons only slightly related to sports.

“While sports analysts tend to credit the team’s personalities, victories and hard-bitten mystique for its sales, police officials in some cities believe that the image now attached to Raiders apparel stems as much from Los Angeles street gangs. The gangs, particularly the vast Crips alliance, developed a passion for Raiders caps several years ago, about the time they began to expand their drug-dealing and recruitment around the country.”

The perception of the Raiders’ brand moved dramatically from football paradise to gangland turf warfare, prompting schools across the nation to ban the team’s jackets and caps.

Wearing Raiders’ swag at the time was a clear statement about your character.

***

For any team, it should never be enough to simply strive for merchandise sales.  A fan’s expression of support for a team through the purchase of swag is admirable, but certainly not the symbol it could be.  Something incredibly powerful happens when those colours come to represent something about yourself personally.

I remember a playoff game a few years ago.  The Roughriders were in Calgary.  It was bitterly cold.  Prairie cold, with a wind chill to match.  Late in the game, Saskatchewan was driving the ball, and a play came under review.  There was some question about the Riders losing possession.

Several long minutes passed while officials conferred.  Calgary’s defence wasted no time retreating for the sidelines, where they huddled around propane heaters.

To a man, Saskatchewan’s offence remained on the field, bare arms to that cold bitter wind.  That act was a statement about who they were, and what they believed in.  It was a symbol that warmed the hearts of anyone who ever called Saskatchewan home.

We know bitter cold like an old friend.  We know the harshness of nature.  Our faith in what lies beyond our control is resolute.  We fight hard against long odds and we win.

That’s what the green and white now means to the people of Saskatchewan.

The Roughriders not only retained possession on that drive, but they scored a touchdown and went on to play in the Grey Cup.

***

As for the Argos, perceived as the 4th most popular team in the 1st most cosmopolitan city in the world, what does the double blue mean?  Who are the Argos really?  Who are Torontonians?

Champions.

Over the past 19 years, the Argonauts are the only professional team in the city to be crowned as such – and in that span, they’ve done it four times!  They did it with superstars who, while extraordinary, remain ordinary – just like the rest of us.  These are not millionaires with team assigned handlers, living and working beyond anything we could ever dream of.

Toronto is a city of immigrants, from across the country and around the world.  The Argonauts are a team of faces, from places across the country, around the continent, and from within our own communities.

In the 18 months that I’ve lived in the T-dot, I’ve failed to see any single symbol that represents the city, as well as the Argonauts do.  They are a team of the people.  They’ve been around for almost as long as Canada has been a country.

That’s what the double blue needs to mean to Toronto.  That’s what it can mean.  How do we get there?  I don’t know.

What I do know is, there’s a place on this boat for every culture, and every ethnicity.  There’s a place for a prairie boy like me, and there’s certainly a place for someone as fashionably challenged as Aaron Rabinovits.

Jazzy on The Beaches

IMG_2318Yesterday was another amazing day with Jazzy.  We did nothing.  Just walked around The Beaches area of Toronto.  Not a care in the world.  Not a single hurry.  No plan whatsoever.  It was the best way to spend a Sunday.

We’ve both been to The Beaches before, but this time I made a point of walking streets and seeing parks I’ve never seen before.  Expand my familiarity with the place.

It’s funny. The Beaches is a neighbourhood in TO, as distinct and cultural as any other in the city.  Yet this neighbourhood feels like a resort.  People live and work here, just as they do in any other neighbourhood.  The 501 streetcar goes up and down Queen Street, just as it does in other neighbourhoods along Queen Street.

I felt something, walking through its streets, boardwalks, and parks.  Jazzy felt it too.

This is my city.  This is what makes Toronto such an amazing place to live.  I really like living in The Junction.  I enjoy visiting all these incredibly diverse parts of the city.  I enjoy sampling the food.  I enjoy the symphony of languages and cultures I encounter.

Frank texted me around 8pm.  He asked if I wanted to go for a ride in his new Mustang convertible.  His other car was totalled in an accident on Sunday, and he has this loaner until things sort themselves out.  One hour later, we were all cruising along Lakeshore taking in more of the city.  Jazzy took the front seat.

We capped the day by taking in the Stanley Cup Playoffs at my place.  Frank and I drank beer, while Jazzy enjoyed another one of my foot rubs.  Lights went off just after midnight.  As my head hit the pillow, I heard Jazzy shouting up to me, “Dad, today was an awesome day!”

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Jazzy on the Couch

Sunday morning and I just finished my second cup of coffee.  Not a hurry in my whole entire world.  Jazzy’s still asleep and I’m sitting outside, checking in with the day, so as to not disturb her.

We were laying down on the couch together last night, legs intertwined so we’d both fit.  Her head on one side of the couch, mine on the other.  We were half way through our second episode of a sitcom we’ve been watching on Netflix together.  It was 1am and the thought went through my head – again – that she’s not just my daughter, my beautiful little girl – she’s one of my dearest friends.

There’s so much subtlety to our relationship.  Perhaps a photograph of us on that couch together would be a perfect summation of our dealio.  Our body language would say it all.

I still haven’t cleaned the apartment from Friday’s get together.  I had people over for a table read of my Boardwalk Empire script.  Jazzy cooked chicken nuggets.  It was a good time.  Drinks, food, and great company.  Not sure if I learned much about my script from hearing it out loud, but that wasn’t really the point.  Reading through it together was a great Friday night type of activity.

Jazzy cooked.  I have to clean.  That’s our deal.  I’m thinking I’ll get to that before we head out for the day.

Settling Into TO

Three mornings in a row now, I’ve been able to start my day with a coffee in my hand and a view towards the neighbourhood here in TO.  I marvel at how much the place has changed since I left.  It’s green now.  Hot too.  First thing on my list of dos to do was install my air conditioner.

Jazzy and I have meandered through our last couple of days here quite nicely.  When we finally left the house on Tuesday, we headed for Kennsington Market.  Ate lunch at Big Fat Burrito, then went our separate ways.  Three hours, she had to herself wandering the many diverse shops and boutiques.

Lisa and I picked her up at the Library on Bathurst and Dundas West then went for supper.  We all met Frank and his friend Dianna at a place called Pomegranate, where Tahirah works.  It was the first time Frank and I saw each other in over a month.

Everyone got along great, and we all went to Salsa classes afterwards.  Jazzy was my dance partner for the first part of the evening.  I’m not sure how well we did, or how much she enjoyed it, but it was completely unplanned, unexpected, and unquestionably more fun than doing nothing with the rest of our evening.  After dropping Lisa off, Frank and Dianne came over for beers, vodka and a movie (though Jazzy only partook of the later).

Yesterday Jazzy and I hung out in the office of Crucial Pictures, which sounds super impressive, but really looked more like us hanging out on the couch at my place, except it was someone else’s office.  From there we took off for the Distillery District where I taught a photography workshop.  My student and his father were quite enthused, and didn’t want to quit by the time four hours came and went.  It was very satisfying.

Today has me at Images, where I’m making some tweaks to an old project I cut for them.  Jazzy’s on the couch outside the edit suite with her nose in the computer.  No idea how we’ll cap the day, but that suits me fine.  It’s nice to be making things up as we go.

Post-Regina Recap

photoAfter 28 hours of driving over two days, I’m feeling like the world has sufficiently slowed down enough for me to reflect upon my time in Regina.

As mentioned previously, I spent most of my time holed up at Mom’s working on my script. The experience made for a very different kind of visit.  There wasn’t a lot of time to see friends.  I didn’t even make it out to Dad’s.  It was strange being surrounded by so much that I miss about the place, but not actually partaking of it.  It was a bit like going to a steak house, and ordering tofu.

I did manage to make the visit worthwhile in other respects.  Jazzy was a big part of my trip.  I walked her to school nearly everyday.  We hung out on the couch and watched TV together while I rubbed her feet.  I drove her to work at Nadia’s store, and picked her up at the end of her shifts.  I took her shopping.  We went for a long walk together near Craven.  I took her to Easter service on May 5.  We dressed up and went out for supper at a fine dining place with Nadia and her man Milos.  We talked.  We laughed.  We mused.  We philosophized.  We kept the bond between us strong.

Home cooking, and all that came with it was beyond words.  Mom’s house is a home.  Being there meant I never had to worry about any other aspect of living, except working on my script.  Water is wet, the sky is blue, and Mom will always be Mom.  I never took for granted a single plate of food, or a warm cup of coffee placed before me.  Sitting on the deck with Dave, and playing cards with Grama and Papa made the whole experience, home.

I managed to carve some hours away for other friends.  I saw Shawn a couple of times – once upon arrival, and the second time, upon finishing my script.  He had Brad & Beth over, along with Cheryl’s sister & brother-in-law from out of town.  We had a fire in the back yard.  Clear night.  You could see the Northern Lights.  Unfortunately, I was burnt right out, mere hours after handing my application in.  I was home before midnight.

There were other faces too.  I put in a personal appearance with the guys from the Romanian Syndicate for our annual hockey pool (which I’m winning by the way).  I gave a lecture at O’Neill High School about filmmaking.  Saw Jamie & Greg in their backyard, movie with Cheryl, lunch with Lindsay, drinks with Glenna, supper with Shy, and visits with Yana, and Shauna.  Seems like a lot, but feels more like I’m scratching the surface.

I was most struck by how familiar everything seemed.  I’ve been driving around Regina’s streets all my life.  Most are associated with memories – some distant, some not so much.  I sat in Atlantis on a couple of occasions.  Wandered aimlessly.  Drove in the city’s version of traffic.  Took in the sights.  Photographed the sky and sent it to TO.

I’m writing this from my apartment in Toronto.  I’m looking out the window at the neighbourhood, and basking in all this familiarity.  Jazzy and I had quite the day yesterday, getting ourselves reacquainted with the city.  I could say more, but that’s a subject for another day.

Leaving Regina

I’m hitting the highway this morning with Jazzy in the passenger seat.

We spent our last act in the city last night walking around the lake together.

I have more to say, but I need to hit the road. Thank you Regina for being an excellent host these last three weeks.

If I’m feeling plucky, I’ll be writing a more comprehensive post tonight, somewhere from the middle of Wisconsin.

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The View From the Summit

That was intense.

I finished my script yesterday morning at 11:30, and got the rest of my application in a couple of hours later.  Made the CFC deadline with time to spare!

I feel like a great weight has been lifted off me – or perhaps that’s just light-headedness kicking in from climbing a mountain and scaling into thin air.  I did what I set out to do.  That’s reason enough to celebrate.  I wrote a good script too – which is an even better reason to feel good about myself.  The best even.

I celebrated by taking an afternoon nap.

I haven’t seen much of my friends or the rest of the city over the past couple of weeks.  Been doing nothing but writing and researching, with the odd exchange thrown in.  Never have I written as such a pace before.

As I mentioned previously, I had no idea what sort of story I would be telling only a couple weeks ago.  The biggest shift came when I completed my step outline.  From there it was a matter of following the roadmap.  From there is was a simple matter of writing scenes – each being a self-contained short story.

Normally when I write, I chart my progress by counting pages.  Something new happened this time around.  Pages meant almost nothing to me.  I had 22 scenes to write, and there was no getting around that fact.  If one scene wound up being 4 pages, it was still only one scene out of 22.

A hard, immovable deadline meant I had to crank out scenes at a pace that would allow me to meet the deadline.  I was sitting at 12 scenes on Wednesday morning.  I found I could comfortably write 3 scenes per day – and have them feel dramatically sound.  I’d write a scene in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one after supper.  I’d be sitting for 1-2 hours each time, with a couple hours between each session.  If I pushed the pace much faster than that, I’d feel my brain getting tired – I wouldn’t trust my work as it landed on the page.

The experience of writing this script taught me a lot about myself.  I learned much about my craft by diving so deeply into someone else’s series.  I learned even more about how I work.

Rosetta Mountain Stone

I’m feeling more confident with this script.  Wrote my first scene with Dunn Pernsley (one of the black characters) and it went rather well.  I used the scene I transcribed from a previous episode as a sort of Rosetta Stone – using what he’s said in that scene, as a way to express what I need him to say in my scene.

It helps to be watching previous episodes as I write as well.  The subtle nuances of language are lost as a passive viewer.  I hear them, but I don’t really note them.  Listening specifically for those nuances however, is a whole other experience.  It makes me appreciate the series all the more – and I’m becoming a better writer for it.

I feel the clock ticking.  I have six days to hand this script in, along with the rest of my application.  Hasn’t left me with a lot of time to catch up with friends here in Regina.  Hard deadline.  Makes climbing mountains a lot easier.  Without it, I wouldn’t even have begun.