The concept is simple: whatever group has gathered for whatever reason can't speak about the usual mundane topics that tend to float around at such things. Sometimes hosts will provide a list of prompts for people to discuss, sometimes the format is more formalized (such as a Jefferson Dinner) but in every case, the basic rule is the same. Cut the chit-chat. Let's have an actual conversation.
This article I read ended with thirteen questions that could be asked in place of the usual, "So, where are you from?" and, "What do you do for a living?" These are more geared to networking events where there might be a lot of people comingling who don't necessarily know each other, but I quite liked them and thought that they might be a good icebreaker for the blog.
With that in mind, since I don't know who you are (beyond what my Google Analytics tells me) and you only get to see of me what I put out into the world to view, here are the thirteen questions along with the most straightforward answers I can provide. For what it's worth, I'm resisting the very powerful urge to be a smart-ass.
These are supposed to be conversation starters, so please don't hesitate to comment if you want to know more. Also, I'd love to read YOUR answers to the above questions. If comments aren't your thing, shoot me an email: potatochipmath [at] gmail [dot] com
- What's your story?
- It's a pretty good one. I was born in Toronto and moved just a city block north of Toronto proper to the suburb of Thornhill. I played hockey growing up and had a bevy of jobs growing up: paperboy, busboy, video store clerk, summer camp counselor, and food guy in between the 9th and 10th holes at a country club. I graduated high school and made it into the University of Waterloo's Applied Physics cooperative education program where I would meet my future wife. I was not a model student, academically speaking, but I did manage to eek out a General Science degree. Jobs during that portion of my life included a short stint as a plant maintenance guy for a place that painted spoilers for the Chevy Cavalier, night crew at Canadian Tire, statistician at a steering wheel production company (Chrysler, I think), math learning assistant at Mohawk College, Physics Club Treasurer (unpaid), campus safety van driver, and waiter. I graduated and got a gig as a computer programmer and spent a few years doing that before switching companies and getting into software testing. I married my university girlfriend four years after we started dating and six years after we met. We bought a house had a kid and then moved across the province where we had another kid, moved across town, and then eventually back to where we live now (literally 500 meters away from where we were when we left). I started playing around with writing by blogging back in 2005 and even read some screenwriting books and took a screenwriting class. I wrote some content for this home trivia video game system that was a pretty neat gig. After moving back I met a few writers on Twitter and I started taking it more seriously. In 2011 I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month - write a 50,000+ word novel in 30 days) and failed miserably. I succeeded in four of the following five years and released my first novel, a non-fiction account of my family's journey with my daughter's scoliosis diagnosis, surgery and recovery, was released in January of this year. I have been with the same day-job company for almost nine years and in a variation of the job I'm currently doing (program manager) for almost six. My first fiction novel releases later this year and the first in a series of five fiction novels should hit stores late in 2019 or early 2020. I like golf, baseball, and NHL playoffs. I am a firm supporter of science, equality, and the Oxford comma.
- Heh. I'm not sure I'd be asking this question to anyone ever. Thankfully for me, I don't have much of a track record of stealing stuff. That said, I am an imperfect human but I'm also not a fan of self-incrimination so I'm taking a pass on this one.
- Tired. That's pretty much my constant state of mind. I'm also in between novels at the moment. Well, I should be writing the next one but am avoiding it right now, because I can't seem to find my mojo. It's probably close to 90% done, 80% at the worst, and I just can't seem to find the stuff required to finish the damn thing. So that has me frustrated as well as a little depressed. The more I write (or try to) the more I am beginning to understand why Hemingway enjoyed the drink as much as he did.
- Writing. I know I just mentioned how I'm short on mojo and it has me depressed and frustrated, but there are those moments when the muse graces me with her presence and magic happens. Those moments excite me. When the words flow effortlessly everything is better.
- This is a really tough question to answer because it's different depending on the stage of my life I was in when I read it. As a kid, This Can't Be Happening at McDonald Hall by Gordon Korman or Boy at the Leafs Camp by Scott Young were two that influenced me heavily. As a teenager, I read Anthem by Ayn Rand and it really made an impression on me. In University I started reading complex calculus and applied physics textbooks and didn't have the urge to pick up a book for pleasure for quite a while. As a parent, the Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth was a life saver. Not sure how it influenced me but it was the only book that mattered for quite a number of years. Then I finally read Animal Farm by George Orwell and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Having not read those books growing up I had no idea what I was missing and both of them have shaped my approach to writing - and life in general in the years since.
- Sleep. LOL. Okay, assuming the question means I actually have to leave the house I would want to go to New York City with my wife. I've never been to NYC and I'd love to go see a show with her and then stop in at the Upright Citizens Brigade for some improv and then wander around Times Square taking pictures and holding hands before retiring for the night at a swanky hotel and waking up to fantastic room service.
- My answer to this question has been the same since my first year of physics at the University of Waterloo: Dr. Richard Feynman. If you've never heard of him, you should definitely look him up. He was a brilliant physicist and one of the most interesting people who has ever lived. He wrote a book about all the amazing stories that made up his life. Surely, You're Joking Mr. Feynman is the title and it's an amazing read. He didn't just have a brilliant mind, he also had an amazing passion for life and an incredible sense of humour.
- I am an emotional person, both in terms of what I put into everything as well as what I pick up from others. That doesn't mean you have to walk on eggshells around me or suppress your emotions, quite the opposite actually. I'm at my best when the emotions are flowing freely in all directions. It should be noted that even though I'm a very outgoing person, I have my limits when larger groups are involved. It can become a lot to process but I'll let you know well in advance so you know what's going on.
- Common sense. I have little patience for ignorant people, but that's not an accurate representation of intelligence. Neither is education. Though university educated myself, I've never put a lot of stock in it. At the end of the day, all the intelligence in the world isn't worth much if there's no common sense guiding it.
- I don't like the way this is phrased. It assumes I should feel guilty about something I enjoy. With the exception of some reprehensible or criminal behavior, I don't think anyone should have a "guilty" pleasure. That's bullshit thinking. Love what you love and apologize for none of it. That said, I am supposed to limit my chocolate intake but have a hard time doing that. I also sing along to most old-school Madonna songs when they come on my iPod.
- Let's get something straight right off the bat. I'm going to die, and probably rather quickly. I'm allergic to shellfish and I can't start a fire without matches. So, with that in mind, it's a matter of keeping me as comfortable as possible before death come while maximizing my chances for rescue. So, first up are a box of waterproof matches. Life improves with fire and so do rescue chances. This way I won't have to expend precious energy rubbing twigs together to make fire. Next up is something I can use to build stuff with (Shelter, spears, etc,) so that means a knife. I'm thinking something very Rambo like.
After the knife, I'm going to need something to fish with. Since I can't eat crabs or scallops or any other crustacean on I'm going to need to get protein from eating fish. I could catch fish with a spear, but that seems like a high energy activity. Again, we know I'm going to die, so why make things worth by expending energy where it's not needed? With that in mind, I'm going to need fish hooks. I can use a number of things as a pole, and I can use thread or fashion something worthy of being fishing line, but I can't DIY a decent fish hook. I'm sure it can be done, it's just not a skill I happen to have. So there you have it. Waterproof matches, Rambo knife, fish hooks. If I get to bring a fourth item it would have to be my memory foam mattress topper because I'm certain I'll be taking a lot of naps.
- Every period has had its ups and downs. That's how life works, isn't it? I am curious how other people would answer this question because I think the tendency would be for people to choose a time from their childhood where the responsibilities were non-existent but the memories still persist. Those were pretty good times for me, for sure, but was I truly happiest then? It seems every milestone in my life was the happiest time, at least if I look at the experiences that surround the milestone as part of the whole. How small of a unit of time are we using to define "when"? I'm interpreting this as an average measurement over several years where more aspects of my life were trending upwards than not. I'm also including the caveat that I had to have majority control over my life. My parents did the lion's share of the heavy lifting for me until well into my teenage years so I'm not including the younger periods when formulating my response. So, what did I come up with? It was easier than I thought: here and now. My wife and I are nicely settled into our 40's and the finances are good. My day job challenges me and more than pays the bills and is really flexible in terms of the ever-important work/life balance. My kids are healthy and happy and already starting to make their place in the world. I drive a stick shift. I joined a golf league. My parents are both still alive and well. Same for the inlaws. My writing career is taking off in the right direction and I have contracts to keep me busy for several years. I have a small but fantastic group of "in person" friends and a larger and just as fantastic group of "online" friends. Is life perfect? Not a chance. Life doesn't give out perfect scores. Is it as close to perfect as it's ever been? It probably is.
- The desire to contribute something positive. Whether it's imparting wisdom to my children and preparing them to be positive additions, or sitting down at my laptop and creating something to put out into the world for people to enjoy, I approach every day with the goal of putting more in than I take out. For me, it's not about being perfect, it's about being better. Ending the day with more good karma in the bank than I started with keeps me going.