My son’s toys speak to me. When everyone’s in bed, their arms weaved over one another like a picnic basket, and my dog is passed out on the couch, snoring louder than Netflix — the toys, they come to life. Not like Buzz and Woody and Mr. Potato Head on an Andyless adventure, but more-so like omens, possessed objects, warning me of dangers somewhere ahead of me (or even possibly somewhere hidden deep within me).
The toys I played with as a child were Flea Market treasures: a Robin Hood, a Mighty Max, a VR Trooper, a Ninja Turtle with a yellow bandana, a plastic giraffe, a Biker Mouse from Mars, and my personal favourite, The Leader (Hulk’s nemesis!) The toys my son has, though some traditional, like the xylophone he plays along to Justin Timberlake or the crocheted blocks with bells in them; many of them are modern. An elephant that lights up and reads you the alphabet, a My Pal Scout that knows Henry by name — heck, even his Noah’s Arc toy lights up and sings us happy songs! (We’ll just ignore the fact that the Noah’s Arc story is technically a genocide while my son plays with all the little animals.) A lot of gizmos with switches. A lot of sensory overload and stimulation.
This has happened to me twice now. The first time, I had just returned from a Northern run to Cochrane, Timmins and North Bay. I had a conversation with a comedian friend up there who daylights as a supervisor in a goldmine. He was telling me about the level of risk miners take, the riskiest being on a scaffold where you’re mining upward, scary stuff!
The jobs are well-paying. He even got me considering about applying for a “nipper” job, which is driving a truck back and forth, but the job title comes from a racist origin. I entertained it for a second but some things you just know in your gut are not your path.
Now, if you’ve ever set lofty goals for yourself or dreamed larger than yourself, you know the weight of your ambition. It’s not hard to doubt everything yore doing and give yourself the pep-talk: “Okay, you can come down from the clouds now. You tried. You failed. It’s okay. Now just get a job and enjoy your life! Free yourself!”
Well, you’re always chained to something, so first off, never believe that voice in your head that tells you one life will be freer than another. If it’s not one cage, it’s another. But be realistic about the size of your cage. It’s one thing to be bird in an elephant cage, it’s something else entirely to be an elephant in a bird cage. Be realistic about the life you’re choosing in balance with your responsibilities.
This is something that haunts a lot comedians, especially comedians with kids. You want to create the best life for your family and you’re scared that the price of dreaming might be at the cost of those you love. This is a normal thought and you shouldn’t ignore it. I’d be more worried if you were off dreaming willy-nilly without taking any care or responsibility towards your family’s well-being.
That’s a red flag that you’ve gotten in the way of what truly matters.
So I was unpacking my bag from the Northern when my foot kicked a small toy trolley that was hiding beneath the rocking chair. A recorded voice came from the electric trolley and said, “Head to the gold mine!” I felt an immediate chill and audibly said to thin air, “God? Is that you?”
I don’t know. In the Bible, God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. What’s to stop Him from talking to me through a toy trolley?
I picked up the toy, turned it off, and threw it in the bin. When I sat down, I seriously contemplated on whether or not that was a sign. Is this the moment I pull the rip cord and call it quits? Am I nipper-bound? A clear answer never came to me. I always feel a sense of gut intuition over the decisions I make in my life but there’s never a clear neon Yes or No, Stay or Go, flashing in my face. Now, if I woke up the next morning and “Head to the goldmine!” was written on my mirror in blood?
I’d probably be writing this from a goldmine.
The second time happened tonight. I kicked another toy, (a large chunk of Dad Life is dedicated to kicking toys), and again, it was a toy trolley. This time, a different trolley. The last one was orange, this one was yellow and brown. And the recorded voice sang this time! “Ride the tracks, follow the mines, get the materials to the mines.”
This gave me a completely different revelation. I didn’t take it so literally. I was thinking more about the mining process and how it relates to my life. That you set out a track, follow it into the deep unknown with a set of materials that you’ll need to mine for gold, or, in this case, “the Thing of Value”.
The truth is, as a comedian, I believe what I do has value. But it’s one thing for me to say I have value and it’s something else for others to say I have value. If others don’t recognize my value, it could be a few things. Either, they just haven’t recognized my value yet, or I don’t have as much value as I think I have, or I have yet to learn how to effectively communicate my value.
The path of the comedian very much feels like a quest for gold. You find a little shred of something shiny in the dirt and you think to yourself, “If I keep digging, I might be able to find more of this, and if I find enough of this, I’ll be rich.” I’m obviously not just talking about monetary riches. I’m talking internal riches. Fulfilment. Purpose. That moment where out of the ashes rises a phoenix, and that phoenix is you, and it’s fully-realized as the creature it was born to be.
As romantic and dreamy as all of this is, it’s actually quite realistic. If you see something in yourself worth exploring, you have to start laying track. This is goal-setting, life-mining, sorting through the good and bad until you’re left with all the good. Then you follow the track into the deep unknown. This is probably the hardest part because this is the part where you have faith in yourself and believe that the risk will be worth the reward. This could be a delusion, a lie, a farce. It could be leading you to eminent peril. Or, it could be leading you to riches.
But if you go into the mine without the proper set of materials, you’ll never find gold anyway. How can you dig without a shovel or see without a light? A lot of times, because artists are typically untamed and discontent, this is the part we skip over. We fail to properly equip ourselves for the tough task ahead.
For me, if I was going to be the comedian I am now and the comedian I am continuing to become, it required me to work five years in a group home, wiping asses and taking punches. There’s something I learned about humanity in that time that’s invaluable to everything I do going forward. But there’s no short-cuts. I had to go through it and I’m glad I did because it’s equipped me with a sense of who I am and who I want to be, as well as the kind of business I want to conduct and the kind of impact I want to leave on the world. That job gave me perspective that I wouldn’t have received any other way. That’s just how it happened.
Finding your voice and exacting your own purpose is a process of self-discovery and requires a mix of life tools and life experiences to prepare you for the task ahead. When you truly start mining for gold.
This was almost too sermon-y but I want to leave you on this.
I want to tell you about a dream I had as a child that I’ve never forgotten.
As far as I know, it’s the first dream I remember having. I might have been 4 or 5.
It goes like this.
I was in Knob Hill Farms with my mother and she gave me a quarter to play on the mechanical rides. I turned back to my mother before taking off and she was simply gone. Then I looked around and everyone was completely unfamiliar. In fact, I don’t remember them having faces at all. They were just figures representing people. I wandered down giant aisles looking for my mother until I turned back and all the figures were gone too. Then I was completely alone. Then I had no one. Then I woke up and felt fear.
That dream never left my mind and I wonder if it represents a greater narrative in my own life. A fear that I’m doing this alone, that I don’t belong, and the people I love may disappear. Could everything I’ve ever done, good and bad, simply be because I don’t want to end up alone? But isn’t that inevitable? Don’t I end up in a dark box six feet under the ground or in an urn surrounded by ashes of my own existence? Could I be fearing death or do I see loneliness as its own form of death?
I don’t know the answer to this one yet.
I’m waiting for a toy to tell me.