I Was Wrong

To those with whom I have ever argued, debated, or butted heads.

I was wrong.

For as long as I can remember I have maintained the mentality that the best way to win an argument is by absolutely destroying the other side with logic, facts, and reasoning. I may have won some arguments this way, but the cost of that victory has been the goodwill and respect of my peers. Hammering a point home certainly may make me feel good at the time or boost my self-esteem, but it does nothing but breed resentment for others. Of course there is always the exception to the rule, as there are with chain smokers and alcoholics who have remained functional throughout their long lives. I have found that no matter what you are doing, you will be able to find others as examples to justify your actions. In this ideology I have lost sight of the priorities and values of others and the desire to understand. Never has anyone been convinced by having an opposing ideology forced on them. Complying out of a war of attrition is not the same as agreeing.

I feel that a strong example of this is my opinion pieces from last year and the Facebook arguments that came with them. Some of them were written in a rather self-centred way. On the topic of technology leading to flakiness my original intention was to shed light on and breed greater understanding of the mechanics of friendships in modern society, especially given the advent of the Internet and its associated culture. I could have, and should have, written the article as a piece contemplating the effects of technology on the desire to – and necessity of – making definite plans. Certainly the ability to connect and stay in touch over technology can reduce the need to see each other face-to-face. Furthermore, rather than inject my dissatisfaction with certain people (you know who you are) into the article I should have approached them directly – not to berate them or tell them what I want from them, but rather in order to understand their perspective, their reasons, and get to know them better as a person. Not only would this have resolved the conflict, it also would have likely helped create a greater friendship (to an extent the flaked out on plans may not have provided).

Further, political correctness or “PC Culture” was another topic that was written about with little regard for dissent or understanding of the opposing viewpoints. Previous to writing the article I had had several discussions with then-friends whom I saw as having radical and ridiculous views which I thought had no merit in trying to understand or consider. Regardless of my personal views, my intentions in talking with them should not have been to berate them or put down their ideas whilst demanding they respect mine. I should have strived to understand where they were coming from. I should have given their arguments the same respect and weight that I had wished they gave mine. Such conversation would have allowed me to properly outline and discuss both sides in the article, rather than it being an inflammatory piece that boosted the egos of those who shared my views while fueling the rage of the opposition. Even if the article had ultimately been arguing against the opposition, it would have come from a standpoint that aimed to point out potential flaws in their reasoning, based not on hatred for their existence but a desire for mutual benefit.

I know that for many this apology comes too little too late. Please know that I am doing my best to become more understanding.

For those who will disagree with me in the future, know that I will do my best to understand you and consider your side instead of telling you that you are wrong and putting you down to the point of not wanting to argue anymore.

Sincerely,

Ellis Koifman

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Skills of 2018: January Report

Today marks the beginning of a new month, and with it comes a new “Skill of 2018”. But before I delve into the complexities of solving a Rubik’s cube in under 30 seconds, or finally bunker down and get started on my Mandarin, it’s time to tell you of my ability to whistle. Rather than write a blurb about my successes and failures, here’s a video to show my current ability. (For those wondering, the backdrop is for the students I tutor online).

While I technically did “learn” how to whistle, I definitely have a ways to go before I can do it consistently or with more variety. I’ll mark January’s challenge as a partial success, which I think is fair considering I only had half the month to work on it.

Now it’s onward to solving this Rubik’s “Speed” Cube without deconstructing it.

Feature image by Pexels

Skills of 2018 – Inspired by Matt Deutsch

For the past couple weeks I have been having a lot of trouble deciding on a new year’s resolution and no, the irony is not lost on me. In one of my research sessions (YouTube binges) I stumbled across this video about a guy named Matt Deutsch who challenged himself to master a new skill every month for a year.

Feeling inspired by this concept, I decided to do something very similar. Rather than simply having a one-month time limit on challenges, I decided on a ‘by the end of each month’ challenge. This way I can incorporate skills that take a longer time to build and not feel like I’m “cheating” if I give myself a head start.

So, without further ado, here is my “new year’s resolution”/Skills of 2018 Challenge:

By the end of…

January: Learn how to whistle.
Current Skill Level: Can breathe.

February: Solve a Rubik’s Cube in under 30 seconds.
Current Skill Level: Never solved a Rubik’s Cube without a computer or removing stickers.

March: Hold a 10-minute conversation in Mandarin.
Current Skill Level: Can speak <20 words in Mandarin.

April: Complete every “very difficult” Sudoku puzzle from 7Sudoku.
Current Skill Level: No idea how Sudoku works.

May: Draw & write an acceptable 10-page manga with varying characters and detailed settings.
Current Skill Level: Can draw stick figures with smiley faces.

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June: Go on a weekend cycling trip, including at least 10 hours of cycling.
Current Skill Level: Exhaustion and sore muscles after less than an hour.

July: Get 6-pack abs.
Current Skill Level: Never go to the gym.

August: Crochet a hat, gloves, and scarf.
Current Skill Level: Had to Google “difference between crocheting and knitting” just now.

September: Fold 30 different origami designs from memory in one sitting.
Current Skill Level: Can make a boat.

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October: Homebrew a drinkable beer.
Current Skill Level: Have a general idea of how beer is made in factories.

November: Become proficient with Excel and create new VBA automations with ease.
Current Skill Level: Know very basic Excel functions. Understand the concept of macros.

December: Film, edit, and produce a 20-minute documentary.
Current Skill Level: Can take nice pictures with my phone.

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I’ll be writing occasional updates when I complete a monthly challenge or when I’ve made good progress. Watch out for new posts!

Apathy, ADHD, Appetite

Disclaimer: This is going to be a bit different as far as foodie memoirs go, it’s mostly about how ADHD contributed to me becoming a foodie.

Focus is Impossible

Throughout my grade school experience I constantly struggled to stay focused.

I can’t say I remember a single class in grade 6 where I wasn’t constantly on the verge of dozing off, or zoning out. This was caused by a mix of apathy, poor sleeping habits and the profoundly difficult task of staying focused.

One day in drama class we were performing our little three-minute fight scenes and, as I was in the midst of reacting to a slow-motion punch, I completely zoned out. Luckily it was the end of the scene. Unluckily, the teacher then proceeded to ask us questions about the scene in front of the class. I didn’t hear or react to a single word that came out of his mouth. Needless to say it was painstakingly embarrassing.

School days were filled to the brim with day dreams and once I got home my parents – who deeply value education – would question my apathetic self about every little detail of my day.

Each night during the week I was restricted from playing video games – that’s not to say I didn’t play anyway while my parents backs were turned (sorry, Mom and Dad) – and watching TV was only for after my work was done.

Only through constant intervention from my father who oh so patiently dealt with my inability to focus did I actually get work done during much of high school.

When he wasn’t in the room watching that I was actually doing my work (while he did his paperwork beside me) I was either playing games on my computer, zoning out, or making up fantasies about being in some far away place (the birth of the writer in me I suppose). It was impossible to motivate myself to get started on a task and even if I miraculously did I would frequently get side-tracked.

I should note here that I didn’t do poorly in school for the most part – when I did do the work I’d do a damn good job, but getting me to actually do it was like pulling teeth. I never really had problems with my grades until the start of high school.

You may be thinking, “Doesn’t mean there’s something wrong, tons of kids don’t care about school and zone out all the time.” You’re right, which in part was what made it so hard to see there was a greater problem until later on.

Hidden Troubles

Up until late in my high school experience mental health wasn’t really addressed as being a serious problem that affected the learning experience. ADHD, anxiety, depression and more were all misunderstood by the student body who stigmatized individuals who had them. After a good friend of mine was diagnosed with ADHD he was explaining the struggle of staying focused and someone repeatedly argued that he was simply being lazy and needed to just get the work done. Yeah, high school kids are assholes.

Before entering grade 11 many students in my year were getting academic testing done. I’m not entirely sure what sparked this sudden acknowledgement en-masse of the effects of mental health; it was probably the result of a diagnosis of a kid of an influential parent or my school following a trend among other private high schools in the area. I went from being entirely in the dark about mental health to suddenly seeing it all around me – people getting extra time for ADHD, writing in different rooms for anxiety.

Awareness doesn’t equal understanding though, so the stigma continued.

I was not among the vast number of people who underwent academic testing that summer – people would look at me differently! And so, throughout grade 11 I again struggled to stay focused – leading to many arguments with my parents, sleepless nights and a feeling of utter helplessness.

Thankfully, in the summer before grade 12 I finally did get academic testing done and was diagnosed with a form of ADHD. This was done by a rather judgemental psychiatrist who made me feel awful about it, telling my parents about my potential for failure and inability to focus like I was some dimwit unable to grasp her words and therefore not worthy of being a part of the conversation. I was left with an even greater feeling of stigma, which only furthered my inner-need to hide my mental health problem from as many people as possible.

No Appetite

Hiding my ADHD continued into first year university. I was struggling to cope with the shock of living alone in residence. I was hours away from home and from home cooked meals.

At this point I medicated with prescribed Concerta (similar to Adderal/Ritalin) to manage my ADHD.

One of the biggest side effects of this drug is complete lack of appetite. On top of learning how to feed myself, I was also constantly forgetting to do so. The pangs of hunger that come when you skip four meals in a row? They didn’t come. Even when I realized my lack of eating I had to force myself to consume food. Eating more than a few bites when I should have been starving felt like being brought a personal chocolate cake after a large feast – a part of you wants it, but you cannot bring yourself to take a single bite.

Needless to say, I lost a ton of weight in that first semester of university.

Remedy

Winter break rolled around and I went to my doctor for a check-up. Skipping most meals and eating very little food took its toll on my body. ‘You’re borderline underweight,’ my doctor said. No surprise there.

I stopped taking Concerta and later began alternative treatment through the Listening Centre in Toronto. Paul Madaule is a miracle worker. (After the several-month-long weekly treatment I received there my ADHD was, and still is, about 80-90% better).

But there was still the problem of my weight.

Those of you who have been to Toronto may be familiar with the burger joint ‘The Burger’s Priest’, arguably the best burgers in the city. You may also be familiar with their secret menu, which among other interesting creations contains a burger called ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse‘ – two cheeseburger patties, two vegetarian patties (two portobello mushroom caps stuffed with a blend of cheeses and deep fried) and grilled cheese buns. Yes, it’s insane. Well, that’s what I ate on the way home from the doctor’s office that day. I’m sure it’s not what he had in mind, but hell, I was finally eating something.

This was the first time I purposely sought out and ate an interesting food item I had heard about from the Toronto foodie community. The first of many I should say.

From that point onward, throughout my winter break, I visited several other restaurants with rich and filling foods, eating to my heart’s content both at home and at The Burger’s Priest. This jump-started my drive to seek out the best and most interesting foods that Toronto had to offer. As I regained the weight I lost, a new part of me started to stir.

Finally, I was a foodie.

Memoir: Picky Eating

I think of myself as a very adventurous eater. I have a strong desire to expand my palate as much as possible. Every time the opportunity arises, I try something new.

If you had met me when I was young, you would never have expected me to one day be an aspiring food journalist.

When I was a kid, we used to go to Florida almost every winter break and visit my grandmother (who to this day spends about half the year there to escape the cold). Each day would be filled with family time, hanging out with my brother and our friends by the condo’s pool area and last but certainly not least, meals.

(Much can be said about what went into planning those meals and how that affected my beginnings as a foodie, but that is a story for another time).

Each night we would go to one of several restaurants in a plaza a short drive from the condo, often accompanied by family friends. From what I recall, restaurants were typically some slight variant of American food; but that didn’t matter, because all I ever remember getting at any restaurant was chicken fingers or pasta. To make matters worse, I would never finish my meal, often resulting in being awarded with a comment about bringing me to dinner being a waste of money (food-wise, it probably was).

I’m well aware this isn’t uncommon for kids at a young age. With limited kids’ menus, young ones are forced into a diet consisting of simple and uninteresting dishes aimed at keeping them satisfied while their parents enjoy more expensive and higher quality food.

Alas, I continued this habit, with limited variance, until I was about 13- or 14-years-old, when I began to be willing to try more dishes, mainly seafood.

This is probably a good time to rewind a bit.

When I said all I ate was pasta and chicken fingers, that was mostly true. In Florida, that’s all I remember eating. But back home in Toronto, and especially on a ski trip to Banff when I was young (alongside other small trips here and there with family), my palate had a weird twist.

From a very early age, I have always loved seafood, especially sushi.

Offer raw fish to your average Canadian kid who is used to eating off a limited kids’ menu and they’ll give you a look of disgust. Hell, offer it to one of many Canadian adults and they’ll give you the same look.

Offer raw fish to kid-me, and I’ll eat everything you put on my plate.

By the time I was 13- or 14-years-old, I was eating oysters, mussels, lobster, sashimi, calamari (including the pieces that aren’t ring-shaped), and of course still my usual chicken fingers and pasta.

No steak, no chicken (unless it was in soup, nugget or finger form), only pasta with tomato sauce (or some basic creamy sauce), only plain cheese or pepperoni pizza and other simplicities were all I ate within the realm of North American cuisine.

Aside from the chicken, I was basically a pescetarian. It didn’t help that my brother believed in two food groups: steak and non-steak. As you might imagine, this made it hell for my mom to figure out what to feed us (that is until she realized she could simply serve my brother the main part of the dish and me all the sides).

When I was 17, I went on a trip with my parents to Paris for a week. Meals we had as a family were typically seafood-filled. However, we also had family friends who happened to be in Paris at the same time.

Until this point I had been completely unwilling to go anywhere near steak (unless it was cooked well done by my late grandfather). When we got to the tiny place our family friends found, I was met with a prix-fix menu consisting of options including who-knows-what and steak frites; steak frites was my only familiar option, so I gave it a try.

It was fantastic.

Several meals later I was opened up to various meats and other dishes I had previously been so unwilling to try. Any personal restrictions to my diet had been completely removed (or would be within a few years).

As a once picky-ish eater, I now find myself making up for lost time by trying everything (that I’m certain won’t kill me). I’ve left my roots far behind and now venture onward to experience and write about the foods of the world.

Cheers,

Ellis Koifman