Sunday, April 1, 2012

April First!

AH! We're here at last... the home stretch of the university school year, and best of all: the month of April. What a wonderful month April is. Most of all, I appreciate the name April for this month; it is so fitting. April connotes new life and the greenery that will soon be spreading over the Northern Hemisphere, but it also connotes the melancholy of all the rain we should be expecting (and the odd snowy day). April holds such promise, because it is really the first month of Spring.

I've only got one assignment left before my three nicely-spaced exams (mind you it's a big assignment, but it will be a lot of fun to complete. Yes, I said fun). This weekend I also finished two other papers--and I have never been so calm writing essays before in my life! I'm not sure I could tell you what made me so calm. It could be that I'm so close to being home. I think I've also come to realize that stressing over these things does not make it very pleasant or any easier to do them. I've also been sleeping much more easily lately. I've started using the breathing and relaxation exercises I've always been told to do. And it helps that I haven't been creating stress around my assignments, because there's nothing like stress to keep you awake at night!

I love this time of year, when everything is wrapping up and coming to a close. I think it's because I like the feeling of accomplishment. On Friday, I finished my practicum with VicReach. This Tuesday will be my last day with Peace by PEACE. Last Thursday was my last shift at Caffiends. Friday was also my last Philosophy tutorial. While it can be a relief to be finished things like my VicReach practicum and my Philosophy tutorials, there is also a bit of sadness involved with finishing all of these things. I've looked forward to every Thursday morning, when, for an hour I get to sit and chat with one of my new friends and make espresso drinks. It was such a nice obligation to have to go and take your mind off of all the work you have to do. I even started looking forward to VicReach, because I inevitably got attached to  the kids. While Peace by PEACE has been very stressful some of the time this semester, it will be sad not to get to go in and talk to those kids and answer their funny questions. Even with Philosophy tutorials came the pleasant socialization with the people before it started, and a walk with one of my classmates afterward, and every once in a while, a nice slice of insight from the tutorial itself.

Here is a very cool thing my TA told us last time: if nothing has any meaning, then the fact that nothing has any meaning is also meaningless. He told us that this is not to say that therefore everything has meaning (because that is not logically entailed by the premises), but it still a neat thing to think about. It somehow alleviates some of the strangeness of feeling like one's life ultimately has no meaning. We are just starting to talk about "the meaning of life." I would say, though, that even if you are only here for a short time in the infinite expanse of the universe, you can believe that your life has meaning. Because, even if it will have no meaning to the rest of the world, your life means something to you. If it didn't, you wouldn't care that you were alive and wouldn't be compelled to do anything in your life. Life is such that we are constantly compelled to keep busy. It's certainly better than sitting around doing nothing because you know it doesn't matter whether you do or not. The expanse of each of our individual lives, it seems to me, is eternity for each of us. There is quite possibly nothing outside of our time living on Earth. The time after our life is over, you might believe, is our time becoming infinite. It is infinite because we are not aware of it, because we can never be aware of infinite. This is a rather daunting subject, but I choose not to let it overwhelm me. I'd say it's better to take what life is offering, because it is HERE. You are HERE.

The last big assignment I am doing is for my Post War class. It is a Final Project, and it can be on anything from the decades we have studied (essentially from the Second World War to the Fall of the Berlin Wall). I have decided to create a magazine, modelled after magazines like Chatelaine. It is a magazine that is supposed to have been read by housewives. What is really fascinating about Chatelaine magazine is that it actually had some very interesting articles about subversive topics for the time (in this case, the 50s and 60s). It became an important part of women's lives. It provided a community in a sometimes lonely life, which lent support and advice and encouragement. It was a place for women to share their opinions and experiences. It's going to be a lot of work, but I'm really looking forward to putting it together. I'm going to use it as an opportunity to do some writing exercises today, to write stories that will be included in my fictional magazine. The coollest thing about it was that it seemed so innocent from the outside, but there was a wealth of information inside. Mine is going to be called Suburban Bliss. When I draw the title page, I'll post it.

Wish me luck! And HAPPY APRIL!

Your friendly neighbourhood,

Friday, March 23, 2012

It's That Time of Year Again

This such a weird time of year as a student. It's the time of year with the most amount of work per week, but when we students have the least amount of energy and brain power. I've got about four assignments due in the next two weeks and a test, and then three exams. At this point I just want to go home and start my summer--especially with the gorgeous, teasing weather we've been having lately. I'm focusing so much on what I'm going to do with my free time (when I get it) that it's so hard to concentrate on the tedium of writing essays and reading and researching.

I read in Psychology (can you tell what my favourite subject is?) that the delay of rewards is one of the hardest things for children to learn about. I'm not sure I was successful in that stage of life! I'm just kidding, but sometimes it's so hard to remember that I have to do all this work so that I can go home and enjoy the time to myself and being back at work and writing and spending time outside. That going home is the reward. But my motivation is having a very hard time cooperating with this promise. SO, maybe it's silly and consumerist, but I've set out a list of tasks that I must complete this weekend in order to go out and buy myself a new dress I've been drooling over at H&M. Right after this post I'm going to dive into one of the essays that has been the hardest to start so far. If I get a draft of that done, as well as a "reaction" that has no particular due date and if I finish the research for another essay... then the dress is mine. I'm trying to be a little bit strict with myself because I'd rather just go out and buy lots of summer clothes for no reason... but I can't justify that if I haven't been working hard. So wish me luck on my weekend goals! I'm going to work hard at delaying my rewards--because I know that when you delay rewards, they are that much more enjoyable when you finally get them, especially after some hard work.

I recently finished A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. It was an interesting read. The writing flowed really well, so it was hard to put down. It was about a girl who grew up in a Mennonite community. I think what was most interesting about it were the details about everyday life that the author drew attention to. It's hard to explain, but she sort of recognized things that you realize you are always noticing too but could never put into words the way she did. I loved it. I love that kind of thing, because it's something I try to do but am not very good at in my own writing.

A movie that everybody should watch is After the Wedding. It is a Danish movie. What a roller coaster! Another tear-jerker, but I seem to be embracing sad movies lately. It wasn't entirely sad, it was just incredibly clever at getting you attached to characters without realizing, especially the characters you think you don't really like. It did an impressive job of revealing the multiple facets a single character can have. It was beautiful. And the acting was great.

I also recently watched 50/50. I personally love Joseph Gordon Levitt. It was a great story, and Seth Rogen was a cute best friend character--except there were too many Seth Rogen-character inappropriate jokes for me to entirely like it. I also don't really like Anna Kendrick, but she was right for her character. Once again, in a movie of funny (genuinely funny, some of them had me laughing out loud) and stupid jokes, there were some amazing moments. It portrayed a tense mother-son relationship, and some heart-wrenching human-reality moments. My favourite part was the end, particularly the very last line, which I won't spoil, because everybody should probably watch 50/50 as well. It makes me cry, but it left me laughing til my stomach hurt--my roommate can vouch for that.

It seems so weird that I've been living in this room for almost a year and that after the next five weeks I'll probably never see this room again. Someone else will completely make it their own next year and any trace of me will be pretty much gone. Alanna and I will write in the closet like those before us, but I know, seeing the pictures of this room last year, that it will never be the same room ever again. But it has blessed Alanna and I with peace and harmony. I couldn't have asked for a better roommate.

I'm sorry that this post is so ragged and random.

I hope you are all managing OK wherever you are in your life!

Your friendly neighbourhood

Friday, March 16, 2012


That's it. I can't take it anymore. The weather is too nice to go back to working. I'm still in my room, when I should be outside, but at least I'm not doing something as stuffy as working...for now.

I'm not sure what I need to write about today, but I need to write about something. This kind of weather is better for everything. It makes me happier, and it gets me inspired. This is why I love Summer so much. But maybe it's Spring I actually love, but I give Summer all the credit, because Spring is the kind of advanced-screening of Summer. Spring is the wonderful time when you're finally relieved of the cold, miserable, darkness of winter. And what a relief it is!

I've been thinking a lot about decision-making lately, and curiously enough, the Psych chapters I've been reading have been saying a lot about healthy decision-making techniques. What struck me most was their description of two kinds of decision-makers: satisficers and maximizers. Satisficers choose options that best satisfy their needs, even if it is not the best option. Maximizers agonize over choices, seek to make the best possible choice, and then agonize over the consequences. It's always interesting for me to have this kind of thing highlighted. It gives you something to work towards. Obviously being a maximizer is not a very efficient way of making decisions--but I definitely am one. The thing that I am able to realize, though, in reading this from an objective perspective, is that there is no "best possible decision." Just like how Utilitarianism doesn't really work because you spend so much time weighing the positive and the negative aspects of a moral choice, and can only predict the consequences (there are many more facets to the utilitarian theory and John Stuart Mill denies that you need to go through a process of giving value to every aspect of the outcomes). Even though this may sound cheesy, whatever choice you choose (of the most sensible options, of course) will be the best option. It just depends on how you deal with the consequences of your choice. I'm sure there will always be some sort of undesirable outcome from every choice, but if you behave like a satisficer, you can concentrate on the positive outcomes. Be satisfied. I guess allowing yourself to be satisfied is a challenge in itself. There's always a tendency to say "what if?" Life goes on, and, if you're following one of the philosophies I follow in life, everything happens for a reason. You make every choice in life for a reason, and it ultimately leads to something you could never expect it to lead to. While it's fine to wish we had done something differently, we shouldn't let the what ifs ruin the choices we actually make, or distract us from moving forward on the paths we choose. I've had the experience of being in a very dark situation, which was darkened most of all with regrets (in fact, most sad, bad situations are full of regrets). It was only when I realized that I was wasting my life away wishing I hadn't done this or that that I was able to move out of that situation. I could also not imagine that I would ever be entirely happy ever again. But that's why it's important to trust time to smooth out the wrinkles. So even with decisions, if they've been made and steps are carried out to confirm them, they may not always turn out right at the beginning. It's tempting to say "shoot I'm so stupid" and be disappointed and blame ourselves, but it's also important to try and make the best of it.

I was reading a whole chapter on health and well-being in my Psych textbook last night. That was also very inspiring. First of all, there's amazing research that has been conducted, showing that thinking positively and having healthy ways of dealing with conflict can actually improve your immune system and lower your risk of getting things like heart disease. Studies revealed that being hostile or experiencing chronic stress (these two things often find themselves in a vicious circle) can significantly increase your risk of heart disease. I think it's magical that nature actually makes it more healthy for you to have a generally positive outlook on life. This is not to say that our bodies can't handle it when we have occasional stressful situations, because we're bound to have those and they can be big or small. It's just about being able to take steps to confront the issues and deal with them in healthy ways. One of the ways they said to get through a stressful situation is by writing about it! I take the more extreme form of this advice by writing down my thoughts for three pages every morning--and I can tell you, as I have before, I am a much happier, healthier, more centred person for it! When you write things down, you are able to take a step back and look at the things niggling your brain and come up with solutions objectively. They say only to write things down when you're having a problem. But sometimes I don't even realize I'm having a problem until it comes out in the pages and I'm like "oh, that's why I've been so irritable lately." And many problems are not solved in one sitting of writing. But it's still neat. The other cool perspective I liked was them matter-of-factly saying "stress does not exist objectively in our environments, it results directly from the ways we think about events in our lives." I love it. So simple, but it was such a wake up call for me, having it put into those terms. Alright, I think to myself, I can do something about that!

The other suggestion they made, that I'm going to try to take up in my life (especially this summer--hello biking!) is to take thirty minutes out of your day every day to do some "moderate" aerobic exercise. That seems simple enough! And just that small amount of time every day will improve your health, mental health and mood. I wonder why it's so hard for us to justify doing that. For me, it's getting my special exercise clothes on and walking somewhere to walk on a treadmill, etc, etc. It feels like a big hassle. But on the days I don't feel like changing, I can always just go for a brisk walk somewhere. They said you don't have to lose your breath or get your heart rate up too high, just MOVE for thirty minutes a day, especially in this society when so few opportunities are provided to get just a little bit of exercise (thanks elevators, cars, escalators and so on).

I've been feeling great these past couple weeks. Maybe it's because I'm learning about cool things, some of which I've mentioned above. But I think it doesn't hurt to have glorious, warm weather. Interesting how something like weather can completely affect my overall mood. It seems unfair that I should be denied a good default mood when the weather changes. But for now, I will embrace it. The next challenge is getting my work done despite the summery, laid back weather!!!

Your friendly neighbourhood

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Is Romance Dead?

I realize that I've started with a rather morbid title... but it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I wonder sometimes what relationships are coming to these days... especially with the romantic comedies people churn out.

I just finished watching One Day with Jim Sturgess and Anne Hathaway in it. I was all ready for a nice love story and a happily ever after. It was a wonderful love story. They are friends for years, and never give in to loving each other until they are much older. Then (and sorry to ruin this for anyone who hasn't seen it)... THEY GO AND KILL HER OFF. I get SO frustrated by that. Someone said "that's real life." I don't watch romantic movies to see real life. I watch them to see beauty and romance. I don't want the lovers to be separated by death because it's just so hopeless. I think this is just my present mood, because I've nodded approvingly at "realistic" love movies before.

That brings me to my second point: I say that I watch romantic movies because I like happily ever afters and running after each other at the last minute in the rain, etc. But of course part of me can't help but wish things that happen in movies could happen in real life. The romantic gestures and words and speeches and heart-stopping moments. I know I'm still young... but it certainly seems like they just don't. That's not to say I don't believe in love. Love is an integral part of all our lives. But love isn't easy and free and effortless... it's bloody hard work. It's exhausting and painful and wonderful and sad. It's like facing your greatest fear (which, for me, is like walking a tight rope forty feet off the ground). You don't know what's going to happen--if the person you love is going to handle your love properly or if they're going to let you fall. But it happens in life, humans can't help it. But those intense, passion-filled moments that they like to emphasize in movies? Those don't happen--or at least they don't happen gracefully--in "real life." Who really can think of the perfect monologue in those intense moments in life? You're readily able to think of all the right things to say when you're in bed later that night going over it and over it in your mind. I don't know about anybody else, but my mind can't think cleverly in "important" moments. I wasn't even able to handle my first kiss (or my second and third, for that matter) very well. I just looked surprised and he ran away.

It seems like the passion you feel when you first get the love of your life for yourself (I'm hypothesizing here) doesn't last forever. It seems like there might not even be a defining moment when you find the person you're going to spend the rest of your life with. Maybe in your heart, but it's not some kind of breathless, loving-gaze-ing, sound-the-orchestra moment. You don't turn to someone one day and say "I love you, [insert name here], I'll be yours forever" in a dramatic voice. On a positive note, here is how I see love: it's a long, winding road. It's not a moment that lasts forever, it's several moments. It's every moment. And sometimes there will be times where you can remember why you love someone and sometimes there will be difficult times where you might forget, and sometimes you have to start loving someone for a different reason than you started out. But there is a willingness in two people's hearts to keep working through the muddy patches, and each other's growth, if it's the right two people. Now I know some people might think I'm being too romantic even about this, but that's how I see it.

This is kind of an awkward subject when you get down to it. I can say, "I hope some day I'll find someone to share that with" or "I'm just glad I've got a few years yet before I have to any of that." Either way it sounds silly and I'm really not sure which one is true. But what I would like to point out, is that I'm sure romantic gestures would be incredibly awkward in real life and that romance isn't what makes love. Love is more than wooing. Life doesn't work with romance, at least not all the time.

That brings me to how I feel about relationships. In days of yore, according to my mom, people did this crazy thing called dating. Going on a date with someone didn't mean you had to be in a relationship with them. You actually saw different people to see if you liked them. You certainly didn't jump into things like people do now. These days, everything is rushed. There's no more holding out. I feel like the more you drag something out, the better it is when you finally get it. There's "no time" for that these days, I guess. People don't have the patience, maybe. But I've learned that I need time to decide, and I won't rush. If whoever I'm seeing wants to rush things and doesn't want to wait for me to feel ready to be in a relationship... then it's not right. These days I'm usually pretty good at telling from the start whether I like someone or not. Sometimes I worry though, if it will always be me saying "nope, he's not right, forget it." I worry if I'm too picky, because sometimes "he's" not right for very minor reasons. I just don't want to pull someone in because I'm ignoring my instincts, let them believe everything is going well, and then be hurt when I decide to actually listen to myself. I'm learning to listen to myself in the first place. It's not worth other people's feelings to be indecisive.

I hope I haven't been too cynical. It's just another one of those things I'm always trying to work out in my mind. Maybe I'd do better to leave it alone and let it be. I think I'll rent an old classic love story next so I can get my "happily ever after" fix. The oldies know how to do it right.

Your friendly neighbourhood


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

Sheesh it has been a while. I've been doing all sorts of last-minute-before-Reading-Week work and now last-minute-after Reading-Week work. Reading Week was a failure for getting work done, but I still enjoyed myself thoroughly! My family adopted two new kitties! They are brother and sister and we named them Keats and Fanny. We adopted them from an independently run animal shelter in Amherst, NS called the Lillian Albon Animal Shelter.

WHOA just discovered how you're REALLY supposed to put pictures into a blog post. I must be blind.

SO one of the things I have been thinking about in the twenty-one days since I last posted is the importance of the question Why. I went to this presentation a couple weeks ago, and the presenter talked about when you're "selling" something to someone (not necessarily selling something for money, but making them understand an idea, perhaps) it is more important to consider Why you are selling something rather than What you are selling. People are more interested in the Why. This concept really struck me, and has actually helped me a lot with writing essays. When I was writing my Philosophy essay on the Mind-Body problem, while I was preparing, I brainstormed What I wanted to write, but I also brainstormed Why I thought what I was writing was important, and Why I wanted to convince the reader of what I was saying. I have asked "why" a lot in my lifetime (what five-year old didn't?) but now I am bringing back the question, but more to ask myself. Why am I going to school? Why am I prioritizing this over that? Why do I think that value is important?

Tonight I finished writing a paper on Woodstock. Whenever I think about Woodstock, I get this incredibly melancholy feeling because of how much I wish I could have been there. In fact, I wish I could have been a young person throughout the sixties, because it was probably the most interesting decade. That way I also could have enjoyed the seventies disco dancing :P. But I feel like I connect very deeply with the issues that were prevalent at that time (I suppose most of them still are). The thing is, this seemed to be the first time when people were finding courage and doing activism in a fearless way. So although some of the issues in the sixties are still present today (like racism and anti-war), I feel like my generation doesn't deal with it in the same way. Maybe we are all a little numbed to what we can achieve. When I was in Assisi, Italy in 2010, the tour guide who showed us around St. Francis' Basilica said some wise things about how we are overwhelming our young people. We tell them all the things that are bad in the world and then say: go do your homework, settle down and play your video games, go to school and sit still all day. He thought we should also be telling them what is being done about things and what could be done about things, not just presenting them with all this heavy information that we don't really know what to do with. That's the irresponsibility of the media, partly, I think. But anyway, I can certainly relate to what that tour guide was pointing out was wrong with how we present information to people my age. I often find myself feeling discouraged and like I'm wasting my time just sitting here in my comfortable life, going to university, and living happily, hearing about the bad stuff and feeling sad but then somewhat forgetting about it. I don't forget about it, of course, but it isn't always on the forefront of my mind because I would be crippled with discouragement all the time. You can see why I feel selfish, then. I feel sad hearing about all the different issues in the world, and I feel like I can't do anything about it. But I guess it's one of the steps just to inform myself about these things. For me, it's hard to narrow it down to one cause that I feel particularly strongly about. Everything is important, where are you supposed to start? I guess I relate most strongly with things that involve children and families, which is why I plan to have a career working with them.

As a fun side note, reading about Woodstock and watching the documentary and looking at pictures makes me long SO MUCH for summer! Summer is my favourite season (I guess I'm a little bit biased because I am a Summer Baby)! I can't wait to spend time outside, go swimming, go biking, read, write, work at the Cafe, go to outdoor concerts (hello Sappyfest!). I love the feeling of summer and the attitude everyone has. I love all the freshly grown food and the clothes you get to wear in summer. It's so close I can taste it!

Leap day is interesting. Today I was thinking about all the people who were born on a February 29th. They must be so happy when they get to celebrate their real birthday every four years. I wish I had thought of this at the beginning of the day so I could have kept my eye out, but it seems like extraordinary things should happen on Leap Days. They're like a secret passage or something that only appears every four years. You never know what magical things could happen.

I can't believe that tomorrow is a new month already. Here's to a good March and more posts and getting all my work done!

Your friendly neighbourhood Erin

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Letting it Flow

Last night, I had an interesting insight about writing--at least I hope it's an insight. I was working through Philosophy (I have committed myself to understanding Philosophy, particularly the mind/body problem and induction), and my mind often wanders while I'm reading Philosophy. Last night, it wandered to how I might be able to get the words out. I am confused, because when I'm writing this blog or my morning pages, I just write what comes into my head. It just flows out, no problem. But when I think it's a good time to do some of my fiction writing, it's like everything in my head slams their doors on me and locks up tight. Nothing comes out. It's like trying to think of where you've seen an actor before and it's right there, gagging you but you can't get it out. I have the feelings, the inspiration, the dedication of a piece of time, and yet my hand stays motionless, hovering above the keyboard/page. I feel frozen, like I've been asked to do a presentation I know nothing about.

I suppose what I described above is the reason my new insight doesn't work, but here it is: If I can just listen to my thoughts and write them down effortlessly in morning pages, why can't I do the same for whatever ideas I may have for fictional writing? Why can't I just write it down? Why can't I listen to the story in my head or describe the images in my head? Why can't I get them on the page? I proposed to myself drawing pictures of whatever ideas I might get, and then writing about the drawing I've made. This sounds great, and is an intriguing suggestion for how to get writing done, but once again, the freezing blankness in my mind that I described above is the biggest issue.

I would write ideas down if I HAD them. It's very frustrating to call yourself a writer and not have ideas. I sense, however, that there's something that's still just scared inside me, despite The Artist's Way course and all the thinking and growing I've done since then. Now and then I do have ideas, but the juice of them dries up quickly. I guess the key there is to forge on, which is what I learned from National Novel Writing Month. I am also able to write if I have a prompt. I'll get something down no problem if I have a suggestion. But as a writer, shouldn't I have some kind of ability to come up with ideas on my own? I get scared back into my hole when people like my professor (who is also a "professional" writer) says things like "If you're really a writer, nothing can stop you from writing" and "if you're a writer, you get that feeling, and calling that you need to write, you just have to, you have no choice." I don't feel like this applies to me. I'm afraid, first of all, that as a university student, I'm likely to put priority on my work rather than creative inspiration. I also don't feel like I was born to write, except that I've held onto the concept of being a writer for my entire life. But I don't feel some kind of metaphysical pull. This worries me. When people put these specifications on what it means to be a writer, I seriously doubt myself and my abilities. It's discouraging and heartbreaking and frustrating.

Of course, it's to people like my professor that I should stand up and say "you're an egotistical fool, I'll do writing my own way." That's another specification he outlined: that you have to be "malignantly self-absorbed" to be a writer. He sat there at the head of the class like he knew everything there was to know about writing, and that we could ask him anything about it. I have a question, Professor: If you had to teach a class, but you had an inspiration to write, would you really leave us all waiting for the sake of the inspiration? It all sounds a little too romantic and implausible. But it certainly has sewn my creative lips shut for a while, and I'm angry about it. These are the kinds of people The Artist's Way helps you deal with when you're trying to get your inspiration back. These people with doctrines and ideas about what good writing/writers is/are, the ones that bring you down with their ideals. I think I can fairly say to myself that all of them are right and all of them are wrong because I've heard different pieces of advice from every single writer I've talked to. They are right about what works for themselves, but they might be wrong about what works for me. Quite often the advice is contradictory. "Make yourself sit down every day to write." "Don't make yourself write everyday, but have committed times to write." "You can't control when you have inspiration, so write whenever you have the inspiration." "Write about real life situations, that's the only thing that's interesting." "Write whatever you feel inside, even if it sounds goofy." "Never edit as you work." BLAH BLAH BLAH. I don't know what to believe, and I'm not even sure I know how to go about figuring out what I believe about writing. After I read The Artist's Way, I felt uncomfortable reading other writing advice because I didn't want the impression of Julie's advice to get tarnished and confused. That's obviously not the right way to be thinking about it. I should be open to all kinds of advice. I guess what I really need to do, is find out what advice works for me, but also find advice to give myself, from myself, because only I know what is best for me (I think).

In other news, we started moral philosophy in philosophy class, which is DELIGHTFUL. It encompasses just about everything else I'm interested in in my other classes. Culture, comparing cultures, what is right/wrong, how do you know what is right/wrong (are your opinions influenced by society?), why we follow the unspoken moral code. It's great. It has even made me consider taking a second year Philosophy course about moral philosophy. GASP. It has also made me much more open-minded now that I have spent a good couple hours trying to understand Smart's "identity theory" and to concretize my understanding of Descartes' dualism and Ryle's objection to it. It turns out I don't agree with Descartes as fully as I thought. He says mind and body are separate kinds of things with separate properties and laws (so mental states have mental properties and there are special laws which govern the activity of the mind). While I think I'm a dualist (someone who believes that the mind and body are made of different things, namely spiritual and material things, respectively), I'm not sure we can brush off the difference by pretending there might be a whole different world of laws and properties just for the mind. But I think what we need to keep in mind (ha ha), especially materialists like Smart, is that the body has an effect on the mind (it tells the mind when something is wrong, and we feel everything we feel in and around our bodies because of signals sent to the mind) and the mind has an effect on the body (it dictates how the body behaves, I should think). So, they definitely interact (which I guess Smart says). And I would even say that most of these interactions between the mind and the body are brain processes, BUT there are certain things that go on in the mind that are indeed entirely private and exclusive to the mind. There is no language to describe these processes (oops, an easy way out of explaining) and the experience of them is entirely subjective. So, sorry Smart, we will never find a way of describing all mental states in mechanistic terms. We can never generalize these experiences. Smart did not give a very direct or satisfactory response to this objection, for instance: compare the mind to Wittgenstein's "beetle in a box." If everyone is given a box with a beetle in it, we think we know what everybody else's beetle looks like (even though we may never see someone else's beetle) because we assume it must look like our own. But someone else's box may be entirely empty, or the descriptions different people give, though they may be similar, may be describing completely different things. It is the same with the subjective, private experiences of the mind. For this reason, I think that there are parts of the mind that are entirely spiritual, while other parts, like the brain's processes, can be explained by science. I don't know if I am being entirely clear either, but these are the opinions I have formed since applying a greater effort to the issue.

I still am not sure I really know how to continue my writing career. At one point over Christmas Break, I even allowed myself to abandon it entirely. I said to myself, if you're going to get so stressed out over never being inspired and never having any work to show for yourself, just don't write anymore. You don't have  to be a writer, no one is telling you that you have to do it. Writing has become a part of my identity, though. It's one of the ways I define myself. I can't seem to let it go. It's true that I don't write regularly and that I have embarrassingly little inspiration, but I can't seem to drop the notion and the desire to be a writer. I just don't want it to be all-or-nothing. It's not what my life revolves around, and it never will be, but I want it to be a part of my life. I will never come to point where I would drop everything for writing, and I don't think I would ever make an actual career out of it, but I want to do it. It's part of how my brain thinks about and views the world. I'm always looking for stories (and more importantly, the interesting, relatable phenomena we experience in life). But I still don't know how to get them out. Maybe I just haven't found my style. But I think I could ever stop myself from trying to write.

I've gone and squandered an afternoon of work. I guess I do this writing no matter what else is supposed to be important in my life. Maybe that's a start.

Your friendly neighbourhood Erin.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Preferences and Priorities

Last week some time I was talking to my mom on the phone and she told me about preferences. There are regular preferences, like preferring red over green or preferring cats over dogs, in other words, aesthetic preferences. Then there are preferences regarding the decisions you make in your life. Right now, I have to study. I would prefer to be writing my blog, but I would also prefer to do well on my midterm tomorrow. We talk about this in Peace by PEACE as well, except we call it "choices and consequences." It seems so simple, but it's such an effective frame of mind to have. If you don't feel like doing something important, which for me right now is studying for my midterms, then you need to reflect about what would ultimately benefit you (I happened to think that sharing my thoughts on my blog would benefit me more right now... It's good to get them out). This afternoon I decided to play computer games instead of studying because I haven't let myself relax by myself all week... I've been catching up on reading and working non-stop. So despite the fact that I have a limited amount of time to be working today, I thought that would be a priority. Sometimes it's hard to trust yourself on your preferences. But I think the important thing to do is to look at the bigger picture and try to think about what aspect of your life you've been neglecting. Lately, it has been my self.

Spending time with myself has always been pretty important to me. I love spending time with my family and friends, and of course it's very important to spend time doing school work, but spending time alone recharges me in a way that nothing else can. Often though, it is hard to justify making time for myself. It feel like I'm neglecting friendships, or that I'm inflicting a lame night on myself by spending it alone. It's hard to realize that sometimes I need to let myself do that. In The Artist's Way it was required of you to go on "Artist Dates," which were essentially outings that you would plan to go on all by yourself. I always felt like I never completely understood the concept. I think that's because I already do make sure to spend time with myself. I suppose the more daring aspect would be to go out and do something alone. Eat a restaurant, go to a museum, go for a long walk... do something in public, alone. And there were very strict instructions not to ever invite someone else along. I guess these "dates" were supposed to help you get in touch with yourself and your ideas. You aren't talking out loud, but conversations are going on in your head, and apparently, insights were likely to occur on these dates. I went to a movie during the time I was doing the course. I found it was actually alright going to a movie alone, except there was no one to whisper to about handsome actors and it felt a little silly to laugh out loud on your own. It was a romantic comedy, and at the time I got upset about being alone romantically (I think I was in a long distance relationship at the time). I'm not sure how successful it was. I guess if I kept up with doing one every week, I might start noticing the promised insights. Maybe I should start making conscious commitments to myself.

I hate it when you find yourself faced with many desirable options with how to spend your time, and you're forced to choose only one (sometimes you can manage to fit everything you'd like to do in some way or another, by compromising). I guess this is one of the main themes of life. This weekend, obviously top priority has been studying, but I was also invited to watch the Superbowl at my aunt's house. Upon accepting the invitation, I realized that my residence was having its overdue Traditional Ceremony tonight, in which the people in the residence get indoctrinated officially. Although I've been looking forward to Traditionals for a long time, I decided that I would much prefer spending time with my family. This decision was based off of what my mental health needs are at the moment. I'm really looking forward to it!

This week I had an amazing experience at Peace by PEACE. Our programming went really well, because we divided the kids up into smaller groups. There was also a substitute teacher in the classroom this week, and I found myself with the necessary respect from the children to be able to get them out the door for recess and get them settled down, as children often have a hard time reconciling themselves to listening to substitute teachers. It felt like something I could see myself doing everyday and feeling satisfied. I know that teaching isn't always peachy, and that some days it would be hard to control any classroom, and it would be hard to gain the class' respect in the first place, but for the first time it felt attainable. Since then I've tried to sort out my program of study to make sure I have teachables, to leave open the possibility of continuing after my undergrad to become a teacher. Right now, I've decided on a Major in Psychology, and Minors in Sociology and English (at U of T you have to do a Major and two Minors, or two Majors, or one Specialist). I was delighted to find out that Sociology is a teachable. The major in Psychology is useful for education in itself, but it will also set me up for any kind of career in counselling.

SO reflecting on preferences and priorities when making decisions, big or small, in life seems to be helpful. Though I've found it's still hard to listen to yourself once you have made a decision. I was reading about "Culture" in my Sociology textbook, and it seems like a hard thing to define, first of all. But I thought it was interesting that it said that often if you compare your culture with others, you can clarify to yourself what is important to you about your own culture. I guess that's what the purpose of this blog is, except that I'm also looking at other cultures and ideas and beliefs to try and clarify WHAT my culture is, or what my beliefs and values are. It's good to remember that and keep an eye out for more ideas and values to incorporate into my life. I have to be careful though, because the textbook pointed out that often we have "ideal cultures" and "real cultures." So basically we all have idealized beliefs about how we live our lives. I think that is very insightful. Of course we all have noble values and ambitious routines and things we would like to be practising, but sometimes everyday life just doesn't have room for them. It is hard to live by your own ideals. But the best we can do is keep those ideals in mind and implement them whenever we can, but also stay open-minded and constantly re-evaluate.

My poor wrist. It is aching from writing and typing. I've been taking a lot of notes this week... I just hope it doesn't turn into anything serious and that it's just a temporary strain. I can't exactly change how I hold my pen. Last night, I was worried I wouldn't be able to move in the morning because my back had so many achy parts and sensitive nerve strains. That's what happens if I skip yoga for a couple days, which, I admit guiltily, I had done. Today I did my yoga and then spent a few extra minutes lying flat on my back on the floor, and it seems to have worked itself out. PHEWF.

I've got a packed week ahead of me, but I think a lot of the little activities I've committed to are going to be fun. I'm going to see The Artist on Friday, so that's something I will really be looking forward to.

That's it for now. I hope there was some tasty food for your thoughts in this entry.

Your friendly neighbourhood Erin.