Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Love Of My Life: Confessions of Academic

On my 25th birthday, I had a quarter-life crisis. I had lived for one quarter of a century and what did I have to show for it? No house, no husband, no car, no job and no money. What on earth had I done with all of that time?

Of the 25 years that I have strolled this earth (or, perhaps more accurately, sat in a Starbucks drinking coffee, writing blogs, and laughing with friends), 20 of them have been spent in some sort of educational institution. Of course, the first 13 were not by choice, but the last 7 that I have spent in a post-secondary institution most certainly have been.

The other night as I lay in bed, scrolling through another article about communications theory while I could hear my friends watching a movie and laughing, I thought "Why am I still doing this to myself? Why am I paying to spend all day talking about theoretical issues and all night reading about them in preparation for talking about them again tomorrow?"And then, only as I begin my eighth year in university, did I realize it: Academia is the love of my life.

I distinctly recall the moment I fell in love with my degree. It was not in the first year: I hated it. I cried a lot, and threatened to drop out several times. I waxed poetic about how post-secondary isn't for everyone and why should I be forced to study more math and physics when they were the source of extreme distress in high school. Slowly things improved, as I finally chose the right degree path and started working at the Writing Centre, but I still wasn't really yet committed to academia and the idea of the institution.

But in the fall of my 4th year I took a Critical Theory course. I had never done philosophy, so I found it quite challenging. But for the first time, I realized that the right sort of challenging leads to an "expiating of the mind", a sort of opening up of thought processes and understanding of the world around you. It was thrilling! And for the first time, I knew what it meant to be excited about thinking, theorizing, discussing, and working through scholarly problems.

Of course we can talk about the romanticized notion of post-secondary institutions and the bureaucracy and the motivation behind research, blah blah blah. All of the external stuff can certainly taint you, and has many people, I'm sure. But it doesn't change the satisfaction that comes from struggling with a concept or theory, working through it on your own or with colleagues, and figuring out how it applies to the real world. There is no greater feeling of accomplishment. There is pride in striving for academic greatness, for integrity, for scholarship. There is a responsibility to uphold the values of the institution of academics.

And so, dear Academia, you are my longest relationship and I certainly don't plan on quitting you just yet. Sure, we've had our struggles, but you've been good to me (mostly). You have given me friendships and jobs. You have changed the way I see the world and myself. You have inspired me to think beyond the page. You have allowed me to find greater meaning in the things I love. And I've learned to love you. Most ardently.

Number of books read in 2012: 16
Current TV series: The Office (UK) series 1
Current nail colour: OPI's "My Very First Knockwurst"

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sharing: Why I Can't Listen To The Radio Anymore

This may come as no surprise to most of you, but I am an extrovert. I always sort of knew that I preferred being around people to not, but I received absolute confirmation when I worked alone in an office for 8 months. Without constant interaction with many different people, I became sullen and cranky and sad. But when someone would walk into my office and have a lively discussion with me, my mood brightened instantly.

So it came as a bit of a shock to me when I learned that living with my friends is actually quite difficult for me.

I've essentially lived alone for the past two years. In Vancouver I had three room mates in the fall, but we hardly ever saw each other, preferring to cook alone and spend time in our rooms. By January there were only two of us left in the apartment, each with our own bathrooms and operating on completely different schedules, so I, for all intents and purposes, lived on my own.

When I moved back home, I lived in my parents' basement apartment. I moved freely between the house and the apartment, but I chose to live independently, for the most part. I had my own bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and living space. I cooked for myself, entertained guests, and often days went by without any lengthy conversations between myself and my parents. I was effectively living alone.

The first person I told about my acceptance to Carleton (after my mom, obviously) was my friend and current landlord Steve. I was so excited to not only live in Ottawa, but be room mates with a long-time friend. I learned that another friend, conveniently also named Steven, would be living here too, and I thought Amazing. I will have room mates from Newfoundland! My friends! This is the best!

And it is the best. It's awesome to have an Ottawa family. The Steves are fun and make me laugh and easy going and therefore easy to live with. We cook together and eat together and invite each other places and watch movies and have a family text thread. It's nice to always have someone to talk to or go somewhere with or invite you places or offer to pick you up from school. I feel safe and comfortable and happy.

But here's the truth: I am not good at living with other people. What I mean is: I am not good at not thinking of the group as opposed to myself. I never think of what we are going to have for supper, rather what I want. I am resentful that I can't listen to CBC Radio One to get my morning laughs and news at 5:45 am because it's not polite to wake people at such an ungodly hour. I feel guilty for wanting to read alone or watch something on my own instead of participating in family movie. I'm bad at not living alone.

Don Miller has a whole chapter dedicated to being alone (called "Alone" if I'm not mistaken) in Blue Like Jazz (and seriously, if you haven't read it yet what are you waiting for? Me to talk about it more? Because I will!). He says:

When you live on your own for a long time, however, your personality changes because you go so much into yourself you lose the ability to be social, to understand what is and isn't normal behavior. There is an entire world inside yourself, and if you let yourself, you can get so deep inside it you will forget the way to the surface. Other people keep our souls alive, just like food and water does with our body.

And I think that's interesting and difficult and true. So I am slowly working my way out of myself and embracing this wonderful Ottawa family that I've been given. It's so nice to not be alone.

Number of books read in 2012: 16
Current TV series: The Office (UK) series 1
Current nail colour: Illamasqua's "Muse"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Book Review Series: It's Not Me, It's You by Jon Richardson

Remember when this used to be a blog about books?

Remember when I started a series about comedians's autobiographies?

Well, I do (vaguely). And I think I'll revisit that series today and write about Jon Richardson's book It's Not Me, It's You: Impossible Perfectionist Seeks Very Very Very Tidy Woman.

A little bit of background for those who have never heard of Jon Richardson or are unfamiliar with his work and comedy style: Jon is one of the team captains on my favourite TV show 8 Out of 10 Cats, a British comedy panel show. Jon's "thing" (his "schtick," if you will) is that he's single and has been for quite some time (8 years as of August 2011), and that no other human could be perfect enough for him. It provokes laughs on comedy panel shows and in his stand-up routine, but reading 200-odd pages of it gets pretty old pretty quickly.

It's Not Me, It's You was written as a continuation from a Valentine's Day submission to The Guardian online newspaper (which you can read here). I read the article and thought it was funny and poignant and made me sort of want to take Jon into my arms and hug the weird, obsessive loneliness away. So when I heard he turned the article into the intro for a book, I immediately bought it and prepared for a light read, lots of chuckles and knowing sighs punctuated by moments of true insight and philosophical wisdom.

You can tell by my obvious framing of the last paragraph where this is going: the book didn't live up to my expectations. It's set up as a sort of daily journey through Jon's life, following in minute detail how he makes a cup of tea or portions out his meal or exercises. It carries on in excruciating detail sometimes, and Jon delineates why exactly performing a task in his way is right and every other way is wrong. From these scenarios he extracts why he is single and why being alone is better, because if a relationship cannot end well (which it won't because no one is perfect) then why bother starting in the beginning? To be honest: it's exhausting.

The book wasn't all doom and gloom, though. I definitely laughed, just not nearly as much as I expected to. He had some gems of wisdom hidden throughout as well. It wasn't what I anticipated from this great comedian, but also, in retrospect, didn't surprise me.

It's Not Me, It's You is by no means a failure, but I'm not really sure it's a triumph either. I think Jon's humour is best consumed on 8 Out of 10 Cats where his adorable smile and nervous giggle make his resounding pessimism sort of adorable.

Number of books read in 2012: 15 (slow on the reading lately, I know.)
Current TV show: Community season 3
Current nail colour: nail's inc.'s "the thames"

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Arrival: First Thoughts on First Days in The Capital

Ottawa is the best. I've been here for a week now, so I think I can say that with complete certainty and authority on all things Capital.

I have had a great first week in the city. Of course there have been hiccups - my first experience bussing to Carleton, for example, during which I took two wrong buses and got caught in rain without a rain jacket or umbrella - but overall I love it here. In fact, I was thinking yesterday morning as I rode the crowded bus to the O-Train (a la Vancouver's Skytrain) that already I feel like I'm settled in Ottawa.

My first few days were spent unpacking my room, picking up a few things I needed, and traipsing around downtown. I saw the Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery on Saturday with my friend Jenn. She brought along some friends from her program at Carleton, both of whom spoke Russian, so naturally I adored them. I showed off my one Russian phrase, Jenn and I shared a cheese plate, and then we saw the Van Gogh exhibit. It was one of my favourite trips to a gallery ever, I think. It was packed and there were people from all ages and walks of life and mother tongues reading the exhibit pamphlet, talking about Van Gogh and enjoying his artwork. It was art to which everyone could relate and it was such a nice, inclusive atmosphere.

Carleton itself is a beautiful campus. It's small-ish and easy to navigate. Everyone I've met so far (which isn't many, comparably) has been helpful and friendly. Yesterday I got stuck in a mob of first-years at orientation and that was super annoying, I'll tell you, but otherwise I had a lovely day on campus. I was overwhelmed when I first went to the school last Friday because it was humid and I had no idea where I was going and I had taken the wrong bus so I was already frazzled when I got there. But orientation Tuesday and Wednesday was informative and welcoming, and my first class this morning went well. I think my cohort is full of interesting people and the professors are friendly and helpful. Mostly I'm just really happy hearing what sorts of things people are researching and writing on, because I finally feel like I've found the discipline that encompasses my style and area of research interests.

I like my living situation, too. Steve (the homeowner) and Steven (the other house mate) are great and the house is comfortable. We have a home theatre with Netflix, anyway, so what the heck else does one need? Nothing, I tell you! Nothing!

Now, there are obviously some things I'm not head-over-heels in love with about Ottawa. Primarily:  the heat. It is still hot and occasionally humid and I am so ready for it to be properly fall now that I hate the weather. The only reason it's so bad is the walking to the bus, waiting at bus stop, crowding onto busses, climbing millions of stairs at bus stops/campus. When the humidity finally ends, all will be well.

So come visit me! I bet you'll like Ottawa as much as I do; if not, I will treat you to a cupcake.

Number of books read in 2012: 15
Current TV series: Jekyll
Current nail colour: OPI's "My Very First Knockwurst"