The Scintilla Project Day Fourteen — Run Away Fast As You Can

The Scintilla Project

1. Talk about a time when you were younger and you embarrassed your parents in public, the one that still shames you.

2. We exert control over ourselves and others in many ways. Talk about a time when you lost that control. This can go beyond the obvious emotional control into things like willpower, tidiness, self-discipline, physical prowess – any time that you felt your autonomy slipping away.

— The Scintilla Project’s Day 14 prompts

I wasn’t really that embarrassing as a kid — I asked my Mom about stories where I embarrassed her and she only came up with a story about visiting an Indian store when I was 4 and complaining about the stink, so not much to tell there.

The real story is the other one, though…

Not exactly done in public, I once tried to run away from home. It was 1987 and I was mad at my mother. Don’t expect me to remember why, though — I was only 4 then. But somewhere inside that child’s mind of mine, I’d had it. I refused to suffer my mother’s tyrannical ways — I was running away.

So, clad in my jammies, I packed my favourite toys and my little brother — I shouldn’t leave him to deal with this injustice, after all — I waited for the perfect opportunity, and around 9 or 10 PM we stole away into the night!

The Master Plan

I had it all figured out. My buddy lived two doors down (I think his name was Jesse), and this was my logic:

  • his parents were nice
  • he had a Sega Master System, which was absent from my life
  • I was sure we’d all get along just fine

So after making the long trek to our next-door neighbour’s next-door neighbour, I knocked on the door and Jesse’s mom opened it with one of the most confused looks I can ever remember seeing in my life. I promptly explained to her that we were running away and asked whether we could stay there, instead.

In the next few minutes, she called my house, my Mom came over in a whirlwind equal parts apologetic worry and embarrassed fury, and my Mom took me home to what was historically one of the worst spankings of my life.

So, lesson learned — there’d be no more running away in the Palmer household. It’s not like I had any money to make it very far, and it didn’t look like anyone else wanted to take care of me, so it just wasn’t the smart play.

I would’ve definitely been the cutest runaway ever, though!

–case p.

The Scintilla Project Day Thirteen — Wasabi?!?!

The Scintilla Project

1. Post a photo of yourself from before age 10. Write about what you remember of the day the photo was taken. It may not be a full story—it may just be flashes of event and emotion—but tap into the child you were as much as you can.

2. The saying goes What you don’t know won’t hurt you, but sometimes the opposite is true. Talk about a time when you were hurt by something you didn’t know.

— The Scintilla Project’s Day 13 prompts

I wasn’t always as adventurous as I am today. I grew up a pretty sheltered child, nose in the books, a close-knit group of friends around me, and never doing much that would upset my parents. My diet regularly consisted of chicken, Kraft dinner, and other such items that you could find in a generic North American diet.

That is — until I started going to school in downtown Toronto.

A whole new world filled with new experiences, new friends — it was an entirely new chapter of my life where my parents were trusting me to navigate through it and come out intact.

One of my earliest memories from those days was the first time I ever tried wasabi.

A couple of hand rolls at Maki Maki in Mississauga, ON
All about trying something new!

I remember being out at a sushi restaurant for the first time, and my Asian friends were explaining how it all worked and what many of the ingredients were.

When the food came out, I pointed to the green blob and asked what it was. One friend told me “it’s a candy they give you to cleanse your palate for the sushi — you should try it out!”

And so, popping the entire wad of wasabi into my mouth, I started to suck and chew on it for all of a moment — until I realized that my friends were a bunch of dirty little liars.

It was like flavour exploding in my mouth — in the worst way possible. My eyes started to water, my nose started to burn, I was gasping for relief and all of my new friends were splitting their sides with laughter. This was not a good start to my studies downtown!

I know what wasabi is now, but I’m still not a heavy user — soy sauce on its own is usually plenty for me!

What you don’t know won’t hurt you and ignorance is bliss. We’d like to think it’s true, but it’s faulty thinking. Knowledge is power, and the more informed you are, the more opportunities you have available to you.

Getting to know wasabi in a shocking way might not have been ideal, but knowing the options available to you at any time is always better than going into a situation cold and wondering what’s on the menu.

Think about it.

–case p.

The Scintilla Project Day Eleven — A Chicago Story

The Scintilla Project

1. Write about an experience you had that was so strange or incredible, it sounds like it could have been made up.

— The Scintilla Project’s Day 11 prompt

Those who’ve known me awhile often think I have a lucky horseshoe lodged firmly somewhere within my rectum.

While I have no burning desire to prove nor disprove this theory (as invasive surgery doesn’t seem like the most attractive idea), my Green Bay/Chicago adventure in 2010 helps me see why people might think this way!

A Chicago Story

In May 2010, I went with some old high school buddies to visit our friend living out in Green Bay, Wisconsin. From there, we’d go by car to Chicago, eventually flying from there back to Toronto.

 All fine and dandy, right? A good four-day vacation with cool people doing cool things.

Yeah, you’d think so. This trip was further proof of one simple fact:

You can’t take Casey anywhere.

The Scintilla Project Day Ten — Young Casey Casano-no

The Scintilla Project

1. Sometimes we wish we could hit the rewind button. Talk about an experience that you would do over if you could.

2. Write about spending time with a baby or child under the age of two. The challenge: if you’re a parent, do not talk about your own child.

— The Scintilla Project’s Day 10 prompts

I did not handle things well with girls at all when I was young. I always kept insanely busy and sucked at letting anyone in, so relationships were kept pretty low-tier on my list of priorities. It all ended well after those years of screw-ups, but if I could have do-overs, I’d:

  • not have ditched that girl on her prom just because I’d broken the garage door and was broke; I’d have found a way to make it work;
  • have asked that girl out; especially after later discovering she would’ve said yes;
  • kissed that girl when the perfect opportunity arose, but I chose logic over feelings;
  • have kept talking to that girl despite my friends thinking she was weird; and
  • taken more chances with the girls who made it obvious that they were interested.

Subtlety is key. Casey Palmer with a Dating for Dummies toolkit.

There were also idiotic things I did in the name of trying to get with a girl, like:

  • the time I went to a party at university with no way home thinking I’d hook up, but the only thing I got hooked up with was an $80 cab ride home;
  • the time I got involved in an online relationship with a cocaine addict who lived in California;
  • the time I got involved in another online relationship with someone who was actually my then-buddies having some very elaborate (and extremely creepy) fun with me; or
  • the mix CDs I’d spent my time making for girls… to give to other guys.

Get your game on!

You live and you learn. We all make idiotic mistakes — but it’s all part of growing. I wouldn’t be who I am today without having been burned so many times, but even if I could change it, I’m happy enough with who I am today that being anyone else simply isn’t an option.

–case p.

The Scintilla Project Day Nine — I Once Was Lost, But Now…

The Scintilla Project

1. Talk about where you were going the day you got lost. Were you alone? Did you ever get to where you meant to go?

2. What is the longest thing you know by heart (for example, a prayer, speech, commercial jingle, etc.)? Why did you learn it?

— The Scintilla Project’s Day 9 prompts

I’ve been blessed to have a pretty solid sense of direction — I’ll go somewhere and orient myself with the sun’s placement in the sky, landmarks, where the moss is growing on trees (yeah right — I’m a city boy; no way I know that) — generally, I tend to know where I’m going.

But my internal GPS isn’t perfect. There have been times that I’ve gotten ridiculously lost, either due to my ignorance or just rotten luck. Some of the more notable examples include:

  • Getting lost at Centreville when I was 7 or 8 with my baby brother and getting paged over the PA to find my way back to my Mom, blubbering all the while. I think I got spanked for stressing my Mom out by getting lost and for crying about it that day….
  • Once I wound up stranded at McMaster University in Hamilton, ON because I’d gone to school sick, fell asleep on the bus back and didn’t wake again ’til well after my stop! The worst parts: I was on my way to work; I forgot my wallet on the seat; and when I got off of the bus, I asked the driver where the bus was going next and not where I actually was. I eventually wandered around and saw the McMaster Marauders logo on a signboard, and found a friend who’d spot me $20 to get home and a place to sleep for the night — but did I learn my lesson?
  • obviously not, because I’d fall asleep on the bus going home from school yet again and awake to it being empty and driving in unfamiliar territory. When I got up and asked the driver where we were (which received a quick “Oh shit!” as I’d scared him half to death), he told me to downtown Toronto to drop off the bus — the opposite direction I needed to go for my shift at work. Damn it. In what can only be described as the best luck ever, the driver put me on the bus heading back in the right direction, and I bumped into my buddy Alfred who’d give me a ride to work, actually making me early for my shift! Boss move.
  • Once in my 2006 L.A. visit, my buddy Jon and I wanted to find a bar where we could celebrate his 21st birthday on a hot May day, and told to walk a few minutes down the road and take a turn or two, so off we went. For four hours. Eventually we’d end up at Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles with a couple of brews and more fried everything that we knew what to do with. Getting lost can sometimes end very, very well.

That's... a lot of food.

So what can we learn from this? That sometimes you’re gonna get lost. That sometimes things aren’t going to work out like you expect them to. But if you can keep a positive outlook and learn to improvise a little, just about any situation can go from bad to rad!

–case p.

The Scintilla Project Day Eight — Worst. Date. Ever.

Stop and smell...

1. Many of our fondest memories are associated with food. Describe a memorable experience that took place while preparing or eating food.

2. Write about a time when a preconceived notion or opinion (about a person, place, thing, etc.) turned out to be wrong. What did it take to change your mind?

— The Scintilla Project’s Day 8 prompts

Some of the best dates are the ones that go according to plan… but sometimes you need to ask whose plan you’re following!

16 was a hell of a year. Seeing as how my life was so insanely busy, I hadn’t been on too many dates before (I mean, my confidence levels were low enough that I’d convinced myself that no one would want me) — but judging from how events unfolded below, I wasn’t the only one!

Girls, Girls, Girls, Girls, Girls I Do Adore….

Reading through my old journals, I see that when I wasn’t worrying about money or schoolwork, I was worrying about girls. I was too busy to keep up a relationship, but I saw everyone around me experimenting with love and wanted some of it for myself. Around Valentine’s day 2000, I was single and my ex, potentially taking pity on my perilous plight, decided that she should hook me up with a coworker of hers and we could see how it went from there. Her name was Maritza and she was from a nice Spanish family.

Since it’d been a while since being on a proper date, I was pulling  all the stops to make a good impression. Planned dinner at a nice restaurant, dressed up in my best outfit, got some flowers — I hoped I had what it took to stand a chance! I get to the front door, flower in hand, ready to take her somewhere nice, and she answers the door. I remember her being cute. And then she said the 9 magic words:

“Do you mind if we have dinner here instead?”

I was confused and perplexed, having to give up the plans I’d worked so hard to put together, but who was I to deny a request on a first date?

Little did I know it’d be an ambush.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Had I been a little older and a little wiser, I’d have realized that no teenager in their right mind is going to have a first date at her parents’ place… without her parents home.

My memory could be playing tricks on me, but I remember walking into the kitchen where her father, mother, siblings and maybe a cousin or two sat awaiting my arrival.

And thus began one of the most awkward meals I’ve ever had.

“What’re your intentions for my daughter?”

“I… only just met her now.”

“What’s your five-year plan?”

“…I’m 16, I don’t really have one — go to school? Get a job?”

“What do you do for work?”

“Work at my Dad’s chicken restaurant?”

Needless to say, it was the only date. I remember even sending a teddy bear and chocolates after for Valentine’s Day (again, if I was only a little older and a little wiser), but that pretty much wrapped that tale up nicely.

Worst. Date. Ever.

–case p.

The Scintilla Project

The Scintilla Project Day Seven — A Recipe for Catastrophe

Casey Palmer swing jumping at age 12
Sometimes you’re going to jump and there’ll be nothing to land on — but no matter how you end up, you’ve always gotta crawl your way back up.

1. Write about someone who was a mentor for you.

2. What have been the event horizons of your life – the moments from which there is no turning back?

The Scintilla Project’s Day 7 prompts

I had to do some real soul-searching to write this one.

16 was a hell of a year for me. So much was going on in my head, and so much was spiralling out of control. Everything I’d worked at for years was unravelling, and it started to become clear that I couldn’t continue what I was doing for very long. Something had to give, and I didn’t know it then, but 16 would mark the death of Casey Palmer as I knew him, and creating something new altogether.

But who was he and what would he become?

Bred for Success

I guess I was never all that normal after all.

Showing promise from a young age, my parents would do whatever they could to develop the skills they saw within me. My parents raised me to always strive for my best performance, but didn’t teach me as much about balance. I’m a child of the ’80s — a child of 20% interest rates on mortgages and two parents working their butts off to make ends meet. My first 16 years were spent cramming as much into my head as possible.

I’m a child of the hustle.

In hindsight, it all makes sense. Dad would work 70-80 hours a week tending to the restaurant, Mom had to balance 40-50 hours a week at a corporation that ultimately didn’t value her efforts, and come home to keep three rowdy boys in line that sometimes didn’t either. They indirectly raised me believing that the stress, working to the bone in the quest for success and never being satisfied were all just part of life.

And it wasn’t until well into my life as a 16-year old that I’d come to appreciate just how dangerous a combination that could be.

Case in point , the first 16 years of my life were always busy. To give you a brief summary of just how busy that was, this list gives you a quick overview of what I remember from those days:

  • Age 5-6: Kindergarten – Grade 1, French immersion; piano lessons
  • Age 7-11: Grades 2-6, Mode 3 education (aka “the gifted program” or “the brainers”), showing aptitude for language, problem solving and math
  • Age 11: Compete to get into the University of Toronto Schools, earn one of the 78 spots (from 1000+ applicants!)
  • Age 12-16: Grade 7-12 at University of Toronto Schools:
    • School Activities
      • Deputy Prefect Althouse house
      • Tenor in the Junior Choir
      • Various roles, Junior Play (2 plays)
      • Member of Math Club, Film Qlüb, Impro Club
    • Sports
      • Track & Field Team (100m, 200m, 4x100m relay, 4x200m relay, long jump, triple jump, high jump)
      • Half-back, Rugby Team
    • Volunteering
      • Volunteer, Square One Youth Centre (Vice-President of the Youth Leadership Committee and in charge of writing grant applications for the Centre)
      • Volunteer, Trillium Health Centre (Team Lead for coordinating the volunteers; co-editor of Trillium Talks, the volunteer newsletter)
      • Volunteer, Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee (Chair of Mississauga Youth Week 2000)
      • Contributor, YouthMEDIA Newspaper
      • Contributor, The Cuspidor
      • Counsellor, Tawingo Winter Camp
    • Work
      • Take-out cashier, Line cook and Host, St. Hubert Bar-B-Q

But Success Has Its Price…

It might sound impressive, but a whole heap of accomplishments can bring its own set of problems:

  • I never slept. I remember the first time I had to code a website on my family’s 386 when I was 14 years old — and going 5 days straight on almost no sleep to get it done. (We’re talking surviving from Coke and 15-minute cat naps, here….)
  • I was always broke. I was never home to eat and you don’t make a heckuva lot as a take-out cashier. I remember looking at my bank statements from this time years down the road, appalled at how much I spent on fast food and comic books!
  • It was never good enough. Despite having many people who cared about my well-being, a number of accomplishments under my belt and knowing that I was making a difference in my world, I was never satisfied. I could never focus on the victory at hand — I was always looking ahead to the next one. What could I improve? What was still on the to-do list? Why aren’t I at their level?

And when you’re not sleeping, always stressed about how much you’ve got left until the next pay cheque and never happy enough to change the habits breaking you down, all that pressure adds up, and the mind can only take so much. For me, it only led to one thing — me, huddled with my head between my knees in the Grade 12 hallway, tired. So tired. I didn’t know where to go or what to do. I couldn’t be the son my parents wanted, and I was in too deep to find a way out of the mess I’d gotten myself into.

It was a full-blown mental breakdown.

There’s a Light at the End of Every Tunnel

It would take years to rebuild myself from the low I’d hit, but I’d eventually learn the skills I needed to find my place in this world. I learned that I didn’t need to bend over backward to get everyone to like me. I learned that it was okay if people didn’t like me. I learned that I didn’t need to meet my parents’ every whim to be a valuable human being. I learned that I could pour out every effort within me to make others happy, but if I burned myself out in the process, I was no good to anybody.

But most of all — I learned that there’s no second chances for those who give up, and that’s what’s kept me fighting since that day — another shot at finding a path that makes Casey Palmer… Casey Palmer.

–case p.

The Scintilla Project

 

The Scintilla Project Day Six — Being Human

The Scintilla Project

1. Describe a time when the content of your character was tested.

2. Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since.

The Scintilla Project Day 6 prompts

When it comes to me, some people catch a case of “He’s too good to be true.” Too nice. Too gentlemanly. Too eager to help. He must be hiding something. He must be trying to get something from you. There’s no way he’s doing this from the goodness of his heart!

Somewhere along the line the standard for being human fell. We’ve become skeptical and expect everyone to try to stab us in the back at their earliest opportunity, so we harden ourselves pre-emptively, knowing that the other shoe must eventually drop. No one is out for your best interests. No one can succeed without you failing. There isn’t enough of anything for everyone to get a share.

But that’s simply not the case.

You Can Only Get Out of the World What You Put Into It

I’m of the mind that personal success and the success of my “competition” are not mutually exclusive. If another blogger and I choose to compete against each other, we might become very successful individually if we’re lucky — but if we work together, we increase the odds for our success, not to mention that we’ve both gained another potential 24 hours of effort per day apiece by having someone else to rely on in reaching a common goal.

Call it karma, call it cosmic balance, call it whatever you want — but the more you put into the world, the more of it you’ll get right back. Positive people will find others willing to help them reach their goals and take burdens off of their shoulders, while the negative ones will find the world consistently dumping right on their heads, and I’m sure that they’ll have a complaint to share about it, too!

But it’s simple math — the more people who’re willing to just give in and help others, the more positive examples we’ll have to learn from. In turn, those turn into more people who can potentially learn from these examples, and from there the cycle just repeats.

So why not try be an agent of good in a world of bad when it simply makes sense?

A Simple Question of Wrong and Right

I’ve been stabbed in the back before. I’ve had friends choose sides in battles that didn’t have me on them. I’ve had people lie to me, cheat me and steal from me — and after all that, I’d only ask them one question:

“Was it worth it?”

Was your short-term gain worth the hit to your reputation? Was the material wealth worth the relationships you severed to get it? The things we get through questionable means are rarely the ones we get to hang on to in the long run, so why play the dangerous game with fate?

That’s why every time someone questions my character — every time someone wants to hate and accuse me of rigging contests, befriending people for popularity or anything else that’s come my way in my life so far, I just remember who I am and what I do. I gotta do me and let haters be haters — may they one day see the light.

–case p.

The Scintilla Project Day Five — Jack of All Trades, Master of None

The Scintilla Project

1. What talent do you have that your usual blog readers don’t know about? Talk about a time when you showed it to its best advantage.

— The Scintilla Project Day 5 prompt

When you’ve lived so many lives, is there any talent you have that everybody knows about?

I’m No One Thing

When you try to live life as fully as possible, it’s hard to keep track of who you are. Friend, mentor, TV personality, student, volunteer, cook, banker, bureaucrat, school president, team captain, rapper, sprinter, b-boy, half-back, counsellor, confidant, husband, son, brother, mathlete, writer, artist, deputy prefect, lead singer, sound tech, Christian, winner, graduate, globetrotter, mountaineer, photographer…

It’s an endless list, but at one time or another, these have all been facets of who I am. It’s hard for me to single out one “talent” that readers might not know I have, because everybody knows me in a different context. When it comes down to it (and possibly to the chagrin of those close to me), I’m a pretty open book. I don’t really bother hiding much, and most of what I do has been well-documented in one blog or another over the past decade.

My younger life was fairly unremarkable in the suburbs of Mississauga — I was fairly nerdy, spent my time on piano lessons and homework, spending time watching cartoons and playing video games with my friends when I could. The first 12 years of my life were pretty straightforward, the way I see it.

But, if anything sticks with me from back when I was “yay” high, it’d be my skill at spelling bees.

Casting a Spell

An image from The Spelling Bee of Canada's website asking

Legend has it than I started counting at 18 months and reading at 2, and once I started, I’d proceed to devour anything in my path like a literary locust. I’ll have to get a photo of it the next time I visit my parents, but one of the sole trophies sitting on the fireplace mantle is my Regional Championship for 1996’s Spelling Bee of Canada.

I remember killing spelling bees for a while at the Canadian National Exhibition in the summers and making it to the Spelling Bee of Canada’s Ontario Championship after that regional win, but I’d only get 8th place due to some jacked up pronunciation of the word “perusal”.

In an era of spellcheckers and “intentional typos” (see LOLcats and 1337-speak), my days of correcting friends when they brutalize a word’s spelling or meaning may be all but done, but I’ll carry my sense of spelling for the rest of my days.

–case p.

The Scintilla Project Day Four — The Bottle Episode

The Scintilla Project

1. Being trapped in a confined environment can turn an ordinary experience into a powder keg. Write about a thing that happened to you while you were using transportation; anything from your first school bus ride, to a train or plane, to being in the backseat of the car on a family road trip.

— The Scintilla Project Day 4 prompt

It was like a bottle episode of your favourite sitcom — five of us trapped on a train for 5 hours with nowhere to go.

What could go wrong?

There’s No Business Like Snow Business

A photo of the January 1999 snowfall in Toronto, the most ever accumulated according to the city's records.
130 cm in January, 39 cm on January 2nd alone!!!

You’ll have to forgive me — it’s been 14 years since this went down, but it still makes for quite the tale.

The Great Snowfall of 1999 had Toronto crippled for a couple of days — despite the rest of Canada calling us wusses for being unable to handle 40 cm of snowfall, fact of the matter is that we carry 17% of the Canadian population in 0.07% of the landmass. No one could really compare what kind of problems come from the weather going haywire, because no one else was in the same situation — but it was bad.

From September 1995 through June 2000, you could find me at the University of Toronto Schools, being one of the lucky few who managed to make it through their entrance exams. Each morning, I’d be on a 7:30 train with a few classmates for the half-hour commute into school in the heart of downtown Toronto. We were used to things going a bit slower when Jack Frost came a-knockin’, but no one was ready for how badly Toronto’s infrastructure had been hit!

My parents have always been big on hard work and education — so much so that blizzard or not, my ass was definitely making its way to class!

A Tale of Two Cities

IMG_2611

The first half of the ride was just fine, slowly making our way in from the ‘burbs — but hitting the west end of the big city brought our train to a stop… and all of our hopes with it. Seems that with the subway and bus systems to look after in the city itself, Toronto didn’t have as much time to  worry about anyone trying to make their way in or out — no one’s that crazy, right?

So there we were — 3 crazy students and 2 insane adults stuck on a train with nowhere to go — and no one knew how long it would last.

I can’t remember how the hours played themselves out, but what I do remember is that my lunch barely made it past the 2nd hour. We napped, we chatted, we rocked out to Discmans, and as no one was really rocking cell phones in ’99, entertainment was pretty limited! It was like being trapped in an elevator with unlimited space and washrooms. (Okay, maybe not at all like being trapped in an elevator.)

Four hours later, we started moving again. And five hours? Five hours later we’d be at Union Station, only to run into our buddy Matt… who’d tell us that school was cancelled.

IMG_2630

Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.

And what did I learn from this?

The next time, Toronto find itself in the middle of a snowstorm it doesn’t know how to handle — I’m keeping my butt where it belongs.

In bed.

–case p.