Small Surprises

email no. 1

A few days ago, I shared a post on Facebook listing the things I’ve been missing, and inviting friends to do the same. Not to dwell on them, but to at least acknowledge them, even if they seemed insignificant. It’s so easy to gloss over small losses, but I’d been feeling the weight of them adding up over time, and naming them seemed to make things a little better.

My friends’ contributions were all over the place, as you’d probably expect, but one category that kept cropping up was small surprises. Running into a casual acquaintance at the coffee shop, someone whose name you can’t quite place but who you still enjoy catching up with. Getting a last minute text from an old friend who’s in town for the day. Even finding unexpected snacks in the break room at work had become an exotic memory.

The last year has mostly involved a mode of living that’s designed to keep surprise to a minimum. Leaving the house involves intention; you need a clear goal to justify the trip, and distractions or meanderings feel irresponsible. Talking to friends means scheduling Zoom calls or organizing distanced outdoor gatherings; acquaintances need not apply. In cutting down on risky interactions, we’ve also been whittling down our opportunities to be pleasantly surprised. It’s another reason that the days have been a little more mundane, one less crack in the routine to let the light to let the light come in.

The nice thing about recognizing that lack, is that once you know it’s there, you can try to do something about it. Like everything these days, it takes more effort than it should, but it’s still possible to create some small moments of joy. Sending a letter (or even an email) to a friend, or dropping off a small gift on their front porch. Making a zine and hiding it somewhere in the city for a stranger to find. I’m sure there are even less tangible things that would make just as much of a difference. We’re overwhelmed by the expected right now, having ceded surprise to the horror show of COVID updates since the pandemic started. It’s time for some pleasant surprises.


Speaking of, here are some things I’ve been enjoying recently that may or may not be a pleasant surprise for you:

Listening

Watching

  • Chad VanGaalen’s latest single is a treat in itself, but the video packed two pleasant surprises: a glimpse at the animated world he’s been creating for a maybe-series called Thrift Drifters, and a tribute to the plein air paintings of his late father

  • The cultural obsession with The Queen’s Gambit faded pretty quickly, but it’s still a great jumping-off point for one of YouTube’s best video essayists, Grace Lee of What’s So Great About That

  • Kevin McMahon’s NFB nature doc Borealis captures the beauty and diversity of Canada’s boreal forests, including some of the most stunning forest fire sequences I’ve ever seen

Reading

  • I just finished Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk, subtitled “How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.” My introduction to Yunkaporta was through listening to Douglas Rushkoff’s podcast, and that conversation still feels like the right gateway into his worldview (he mentions a few times in the book how written language is already at a remove from indigenous thinking), but the book is an easy and insightful read regardless

  • I missed Slate’s Future Tense fiction series in 2019, and only stumbled across Cory Doctorow’s entry recently, but its sci-fi examination of “technologies of oppression” is a thought-provoking extrapolation of recent technology triends

  • In “Why I’m Not Writing About DIY Anymore” for Canadian music journalism collective New Feeling, Tom Beedham makes a convincing case for the incompleteness of terms like independent, and the need to switch to “Do It Together”


The A.M.

I host a weekly show on Calgary’s campus and community radio station, CJSW 90.9fm. It’s loosely structured around waking up, starting with ambient electronic music and neo-classical, moving through airy psychedelia and spiritual jazz, and ending up with brighter, more energetic sounds like dream pop and shoegaze. This week’s episode got a little more soulful, since I’ve been listening to James Baldwin’s record collection on Spotify and it’s been rubbing off a bit.

Older episodes are also available at https://theam.ca or https://cjsw.com/the-a-m


Monday Shorts

Each week, I write about an independent animated short for the Quickdraw Animation Society. Here’s a few of the most recent films, and links to the posts.

Uncle Thomas, Accounting for the Days, by Regina Pessoa: A remembrance of an influential relative and a reflection on the things that define us.

Hot & Tasty by Laura Jayne Hodkin: Inspired silliness, a dark comedy about two drunk friends stumbling onto a crime scene.

Make it Soul by Jean-Charles Mbotti Malolo: A turning point in the history of soul, rendered in amazingly energetic felt markers.

White Horse by Yujie Xu: Shifting sands depict a surreal journey involving an accordian and a white horse.


One last thing:

This is my first stab at a Substack, and I’m very open to feedback on what works and what doesn’t. I’m sure the format will shift and evolve as I start to understand what this format and this particular newsletter is all about, but until then, if you enjoy it, please share it around, and if you don’t, a constructive note is always appreciated.