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.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Comic Relief

It's been a long, strange week. But I made it to the end. Congratulations to everyone else for making it to Friday too.

It's been one of those weeks where it feels like I was trapped inside myself, unable to stop myself from being irresponsible and lazy. I did eventually get that Murrow presentation finished, the night before I had to do it. Things started looking up on Thursday (yesterday), because the presentation went really well. I didn't do much else yesterday though, because I thought I deserved to just chill. Then I realized that's what I've been doing all week: coasting, avoiding. Today I feel like a new woman. I've made one of my lists of everything I need to do and the amount of time I have to do it. I feel much more organized and focused now. I guess we all get in ruts like the one I was in this week. The important thing is not to get too upset at yourself for doing that. Everybody needs a break sometimes.

Yesterday and today I drew some comics:

These comics have provided me with a wonderful way to remove myself from any other kind of thought. I am starting to remember the magical healing powers of drawing and colouring. Especially colouring, because it's so systematic and satisfying. I feel like seeking out a colouring book and buying myself one of those 64-packs of crayons. Crayons have always been my favourite colouring stick. Markers are too bold, and sometimes pencil crayons remind me of this horrible project I was forced to do in middle school for art class. The teacher wanted us to do a pointillism-style picture. Needless to say, as a perfectionist child, it took me weeks. And we had to use pencil crayons. I remember one night crying over it because I had to get it done because the teacher was mad at me for it being so late. It ruined pencil crayons and dots for me. I don't know why she wouldn't let us use paint, that would have been much easier.

Once again, Sam Roberts has been the hero of my life. Lately his music has been uplifting, and calming and inspiring when it needs to be. I have been listening to and trying to get to know his new album, Collider. I still haven't listened to it enough to know all the songs, but I find myself "craving" some of them, if you know what I mean. It's a very nice mix of his old style and a newer, almost bluesy style. I don't know music terms very well, or at least don't really know how to critique music because I don't have a very big repertoire of artists in my mind, but I appreciate music. Sometimes it takes me a few listens to really get certain music, but I'm always trying to see what is good about it. Music is an amazing thing. I feel like it's quite unlike any other thing in the world. I just wish I had more of an affinity to playing it. I used to play piano, and I enjoyed it. But I wish I had to ability to write my own music. Music is such a unique language. Everybody can understand it. And it has the ability to convey so much feeling and so emotion. It can tell stories, and make you empathize. I love it. It's beautiful. The best way to experience music by far is by going to live concerts. Such an energy is created during concerts, because you're able to see the musicians at their work, loving it, and loving that you're there to hear them, loving that they get to share their passion with you.

I have started wrapping my mind around writing for my college's newspaper. I don't know how I would do writing newspaper articles. I guess what I do here is a little bit like that. I would just hope that I could find interesting things to write about. The only thing I worry about is how much of an extra commitment it would be. But I guess it wouldn't feel like a commitment if I enjoyed doing it. I met some people who work at The Strand (that's what the newspaper is called) last night and they were people I liked being around. Of course, one of my best friends in Toronto does art for it, so it's no surprise.

I'm hoping that this week, in between catching up on all my readings and preparing for future essays and projects, that I will be able to do some writing. Today I have been feeling particularly inspired. The annoying thing that happens is when I don't feel like doing work, so I procrastinate by doing useless things like playing Tetris and scrolling through Facebook, when I could have been spending all that time not doing work and writing instead. I think it feels like writing would be some kind of admission that I am not doing my work, because I'm completely committing to doing something else. Whereas with Facebook you can keep pretending that you're going to get off in a few minutes. What a fiend Facebook is. I've been considering taking a week or two off from it. My mom is thinking of "giving it up for lent." It's an idea.

One of my friends told me that he got some advice about making specific weekly times to write for yourself, and never, ever, breaking those commitments. I think that's a great idea. Maybe I'll try it. The next step is deciding how much time and when...

As for this blog, I'm afraid this post hasn't been very exciting, but I haven't done a post in a while, and I wanted to reconnect. Hopefully this coming week I will have lots to say about how much work I got done and what a productive week it was. Maybe I'll have some writing to post.

Your friendly neighbourhood Erin.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Good Night, and Good Luck

Every once in a while, when I have a particularly important presentation, that I must finish in a very specific amount of time... I completely waste the time provided. This leads to a generally panicked couple of days until the presentation is over with. Welcome to my Edward R. Murrow presentation.

I am finding the man is actually pretty fascinating, but I feel like I could never get all the details right. Either way, I'm learning that he had a lot of integrity and determination, and spent a lot of time in Europe learning about world affairs first hand. He interviewed famous writers, and even people like Gandhi and Trotsky. Or at least, organized the interviews. He made sure that CBS was there for minute-by-minute updates of the war, broadcasting during the London bombing. I am shocked at what an outspoken and short-tempered man he is made out to be. I suppose my only impression of him comes from the youtube videos of his broadcasts, in which he seems calm and collected, but serious and knowledgeable (of course he would be on television). I watched the movie made about him, Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney (who also plays Fred Friendly, the man Murrow worked on the program that aired the episodes about McCarthy). The guy who plays Murrow makes him out to be above any kind of overreaction to worrisome events. He takes everything in stride. According to my sources, everything else about that movie is extremely accurate. But anyway, Murrow eventually started a program with Friendly called See It Now, in which he aired episodes demonstrating the unjust tactics McCarthy was using to convict supposed Communists in the US government. Murrow agreed that the Communists should be rooted out, but McCarthy was giving people unfair trials, and Murrow didn't agree with that. There is a famous broadcast in which he points out McCarthy making a fool of himself with false accusations and hearsay. This was a HUGE risk for Murrow, especially considering the subject of McCarthy's convictions---Murrow was risking his own reputation, knowing that McCarthy would return with an accusation of him being a Communist. He had also lost the funding of advertisers when they knew that Murrow was going to do the episode. He had everyone on edge, all for the sake of giving the American people substance, not froth, in their news. Murrow also had always been against "editorializing," and by doing the McCarthy broadcast, he was breaking his own policy, representing a very clearly biased view. He gave McCarthy fair time to respond, and requested that it be McCarthy directly, not a correspondent. McCarthy's response made him a fool, and he was soon put under investigation by the US Senate (I think... anyway, some kind of governing body put him under investigation). But despite his triumph, Murrow was shelved, because advertisers didn't like his risky presentations. They didn't want to be affiliated with controversial news delivery. So Murrow was all but fired when he was demoted to fewer shows, and in a crappy time slot. He went on to work for the United States Information Agency, appointed by JFK. He resigned after JFK's assassination and Lyndon B. Johnson's rise to presidency. I haven't read much about that time period in his life, because his work with CBS had much more of an impact on his decade. My favourite thing about him was a speech he made at a Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) Convention in 1958. Here's the link:

Here is a youtube video of his McCarthy episode:

SO that's my blurb of what I know and think is interesting about McCarthy, but still, here I am late on Sunday night, after wasting a Saturday worrying, with the bear bones of what I'm going to say down, and a timeline half-finished to enable me to clarify for myself everything that happened to Murrow. Sometimes I worry that doing things like this are a waste of time. But I think I do them because I want to do projects well. I spend a lot of time on details, which is also often my downfall. I need some kind of expression about how details are not as important as the whole or something. But anyway. The lack of work that has been completed is extremely worrisome, because tomorrow my day is so packed, I don't think there will be any time to breathe. Tuesday, it will be somewhat as busy, but I'm going to put my Murrow project as a priority over other work for now (remember how I said presentations and projects put all other school work/things in my life on hold? I know it's a bad work habit, but once again, I've left myself no choice). This means that I'll be behind on Sociology readings, and I'm already behind on Psychology readings. Next year, I definitely won't be taking on so much. I only did because every one told me it was the right thing to do to get super involved. I thought so myself, but I think I forgot about "everything in moderation."

Well, I suppose I should get some sleep before my big day tomorrow. I'm going to be absolutely exhausted by the end of my day tomorrow. Then it's another early morning on Tuesday...

The only thing I know is that, despite how impossible my week seems right now, and how far away the completion of my presentation preparation seems, time keeps going, which means that eventually, all this stuff is going to happen, some way, some how. I am just going to do my best to keep my cool, and trust that it will go smoothly.

Good night, and good luck.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tossing and Turning in Toronto

As is apparent from my title (get it? It's like Sleepless in Seattle), I am having major troubles falling asleep at night. The frustrating thing is that I can't seem to stop sleeping in the morning. So why can't I garner the desire to sleep from the morning and apply it to my nights?

I hate the feeling of lying there, first on your back, then on one side, then the other... and knowing that the minutes are ticking by and you still aren't sleeping. Being aware of not sleeping makes the possibility of sleep even worse. Turning the light on to read I feel is counter to falling asleep or feeling tired. I guess lately I just can't turn my mind off. Some nights it's because of worrying or feeling sad, some nights it's because I'm so excited about all the things that are going on. I wish I could tell my brain to save the thoughts til morning. I just hope this problem remedies itself soon, because I'm sick of sleeping away my mornings and feeling disgruntled because of it.

Today, I read a lot about brains and how they work. It was one of my Psychology chapters. What a crazily complex system that resides inside us! I am most amazed that humans were able to get down to the nitty gritty of the structures of neurons and the structure of DNA. Neurons aren't actually attached, but the information is passed from one to the next somehow through the synapse or the synaptic cleft (which is the space between the dendrites and the terminal buttons)...I haven't got it all straight yet, but it's still incredible. Just the awesome (in the true sense of the word) ability of the brain to compensate for itself, by taking on functions of damaged parts, or growing new parts blows my mind (is that possible?).

I still have an entire chapter to read before Monday (another fifty pages or so), as well as a Sociology chapter. And of course my Murrow presentation. We've decided to put off Pulp Fiction until next Saturday, so instead I'm going to watch Good Night, and Good Luck which is a film about Edward Murrow. I consulted my professor and he said it's a great movie. Hooray.

Speaking of reading, I just "finished" one of my Philosophy readings. This one was by Thomas Nagel called "What is it Like to be a Bat?" or something like that. The funny thing about getting my Philosophy readings done is that reading them is like a race to see how quickly I can read the words. They meant absolutely nothing to me. It's pretty much an exercise in word-recognition. It's a very good activity to do for getting other thinking done while you do it. Oh dear, Philosophy. How you fail to capture my interest. This one was actually pretty accessibly written I think, but still none of it registered. Usually it's all in some foreign version of English, like reading a whole different language and pretending you understand. When I'm tired, I try to read and I fall asleep. When I'm perfectly awake, I read and nothing computes. There's no way to win. Then, in lectures, no matter how rested I feel, I doze off or get engrossed in my doodling. Good thing there's a handout for every class and good thing he gives us review pages that give us exactly what will be on the exam. I just feel bad for my TA in tutorials when he asks us questions about the readings or anything else, and at first, without prompting, the class is silent, staring at the desk, pretending to think... eventually some discussions get going, but I find even those make me end up questioning why we even bother because the TA makes it impossible to come up with a satisfactory answer. And some of his arguments don't make sense, or they do, but, like many comparisons and objections in Philosophy, are overexaggerations or use unrealistic reasoning. My brain just aches by the end of it. At this point, I'm just trying to get through Philosophy and looking forward to the time when I never have to take another Philosophy class in my life.

To be honest, I'm a little disappointed that I don't enjoy Philosophy. And many people tell me not to judge it by the Intro course, but I have a feeling that I won't enjoy Philosophy, the way it's taught, in any form. Of course I'm interested in the issues, but I'm almost turned off the by the ambition and confidence with which it's dealt with. All these writers write like they have the key. And the professor and my TA tell me to write like I have the answers and to support my answers. How can they and how can I? There are no answers, that's why we study it. And I'm just a university student! These valiant attempts are always bound to be nit-picked apart by all the other philosophers, leaving you discouraged. I know you can't find answers without a lot of attempts at hypotheses, but a lot of the attempts just seem like a waste of time. I think I'm having a hard time explaining myself here. I think basically, there are some things that we really just can't explain and never will be able to explain. And I hate the philosophers who try to explain the unexplainable (for instance, something that we have mostly agreed is spiritual) by saying that there is an intricate scientific process to it because you can compare it to some other scientific process. I don't know why we don't all get stumped at skepticism. All philosophers arrive there at some point, and yet they keep going. I think most of all I hate the obsession, the mania, with trying to make everything in life something you can explain. Why does everything we experience have to be concretely understandable? Why can't we let some things just be? I feel like we're going to lose knowledge with some of the solutions we find, or rather, if we find solutions to certain things.

On the other hand, I'm about to dive into an exploration of Psychology (because I'm hoping to major in it). Psychology is explaining behaviours, feelings, thoughts. It might be getting close to the point I described above, but it's fascinating. I want to know more. It's amazing the things that can subconsciously alter your mind. I want to understand it, so I can understand myself, and help others understand themselves.

MIND. That is the big question that has been raised in my Philosophy class these days: What is your mind? Is it spiritual or physical? To me, it seems like a silly question. Even though I've just learned about all the complex functions of the brain, I still believe there's something about the mind that isn't the result of those functions. Something immeasurable, and therefore spiritual. What is it? I don't know if I would call it consciousness. I don't even think it is necessarily confined to your brain. I feel like the mind is what connects us to our history, like Octavio Paz's Other Voice. The mind carries the consciousness and experience of generations. It carries the wisdom of creativity and inspiration and the ability to think abstractly. I will have to keep thinking about how I feel about it, especially because I'm already starting to question if I'm so sure that it isn't just the physical processes of our brains. That just seems like such a cold, hard explanation. Maybe mind is soul? I don't know, apparently it's already too late in the night  for me to be contemplating these things.

I have a theory (or hypothesis...I'm confused) that my most creative time of day is around noon. I have class at noon every single day, and throughout those classes I see designs in every open space of my page and I can't seem to stop drawing. Either that's my most creative time of day, or those are boring classes. I think I would like to test this theo...hypothesis? by doing something creative at noon on a day that I don't have class. I wonder if there even is a creative time of day. Maybe the theory is that I have a particularly creative time of day, and the hypothesis is that my most creative time of day is at noon... I think this is evidence of my brain trying to absorb the Psychology knowledge.

Well, I think I will bring this rather eclectic and questioning post to an end. Hopefully now that some of these thoughts have been typed out, I won't have such a hard time falling asleep tonight. I want to get up early and get things done before my tutorial.

By the way, I'd just like to make a note about how often I'd like to be doing these posts. Really, I've been doing them when I feel like doing them, which so far, has been every day. But I won't be expecting myself to do them every day. But you never know, I might. I think in future I'd like to take a few days to ruminate on a subject before I write a post so it can be a little bit more structured and coherent... as it is I'm just splatting my thoughts onto the post. Which is good in some ways, I suppose. Stay tuned.

Good night, and good luck.

Your friendly neighbourhood Erin.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The English Patient

PHEWF. You know that feeling when you're nearing the end of a book, and you don't want it to end, but you have to keep going because you have to see how it will end up? That was my adventure last night with The English Patient.

I usually pull whatever book that I'm reading out while I floss (because my flossing takes time, I have a built in retainer...anyhoo). I happened to be nearing the end of The English Patient last night, but I kind of thought I could get another evening out of it. Not so. This novel is so brilliantly written. A review on the front of it calls the writing "dreamlike" and I think I would describe it that way too. You get this strange perspective on the characters, but nevertheless get thoroughly attached and invested. I found Ondaatje's writing to be like poetry and it was a delicious read. And needless to say he dragged me kicking and screaming through the conclusion of the book...I was physically unable to put it down until I had finished it. The ending was...impeccable. I always get worried at the end of books because endings are a very tricky thing to handle, and, most often, are very disappointing and sometimes careless. Although it wasn't happy-ever-after, it was satisfying. And he ended the book with an amazing case of synchronicity. I'm not even kidding (how synchronous is that). I'm not sure if I should even explain, because everybody that reads this blog has to go and read The English Patient. But the very last instance of the book was heartbreakingly romantic and wonderful. It's only three hundred pages, the writing is beautiful and the story is compelling. For me, it was a refreshing take on writing. I have been starting books and putting them down, just feeling like everyone is doing the same thing over and over again. But this completely differently style hooked me and dragged me. I am very sad it's over, but, I am filled with the satisfaction of an author handling me responsibly as a reader.

In other news, I have been having a rough day. My work is becoming a pile threatening to topple. I am beating myself up for thinking I could afford to take a break last Friday. Suddenly, I have not one, but TWO fifty-page Psychology chapters, another long, boring Sociology chapter, lecture notes to go over, and worst of all... a presentation next week. The presentation is what has kicked me in the shins. Suddenly, it's here, and I have to do it next Thursday. I knew it would creep up on me because it's so early in the semester. Basically I have to impersonate Edward R. Murrow, a controversial American news anchor from the fifties. His claim to fame is a hounding of McCarthy. It's interesting, but I'm the kind of person that likes to be prepared and I feel like a week isn't enough. But I have to make the best of it, and that's that.

Wouldn't it be nice if university was just lectures and readings? Those are easy enough to balance throughout the week. There's just enough time in a week to get that basic work done. But throw a presentation or an essay in, and I crumple. I guess that's one of the big things you learn in university: time management. Refiguring of the way you manage your time CONSTANTLY. It drives me nuts.

The other thing that overwhelms me when I have a lot of work to do, is my extra-curricular commitments. They're very minor, and they're enjoyable and always turn out to be a nice break, but nevertheless, it feels like there's no time left in your day if there's an extra-curricular thing you have to do. Tomorrow morning, for an hour, I am volunteering at the fair trade cafe at my college. It's only an hour, and I love the person I work with, and I always come out feeling calm and centered. But every week it's a fight to remind myself how much I like it, and that my morning wouldn't have consisted of anything much more productive than that. In fact, I manage to use the small blocks of time surrounding it to get stuff done. Then, on Fridays, I go to a school in the afternoon after my Philosophy tutorial. I kind of fell into this by accident. I applied because (for some reason) I thought there would be consultation if I were accepted, to see if I still wanted to do it. Counting on that, I signed up for a different school opportunity that I wanted to do much more. Then, one day, I get an email telling me what school I'll be going to and the name of the teacher. YIKES! WAIT! WHAT? But anyway, being raised as a person who follows through on commitments, I went. And it definitely wasn't my cup of tea. I struggled with the teacher at first and the way she did things, and felt awkward and like I had no experience (because I don't). But now, as the weeks have gone by, I have become inevitably attached to and charmed by the kids, and I understand the teacher's relationship with them much better than when I first started out. I also understand the way the teacher functions. It's still not how I like to do things, but I get it and I respect it and I just flit around the world she has created and do what she tells me to do to the best of my ability. And it is good experience.

The other "school thing" I'm doing is called Peace by PEACE and it's a conflict resolution workshop that, with a team, I go in and teach to a grade four class. We talk about how conflict is an inevitable part of everyone's life and can't be avoided. We talk about the escalation of conflict, and recognizing where you are in that escalation so you can use methods to cool down from your anger. Next week, we'll be teaching them about empathy and I-statements (taking ownership of your feelings and not trying to implicate other people in their side of the conflict). Later on, we'll talk about self esteem and inner power and bullying and accepting each other's differences.  It's pretty great. What I like is the fact that we're reaching out to people while they're young and trying to give them skills to grow with. I'd like to develop a similar program of some sort when I'm older, and maybe something I can incorporate into the education system that makes education less competitive and more beneficial, that teaches kids social skills and awareness and acceptance. It's very idealistic, but it's what matters to me. You want the world to be different? You have to reach out and respect the younger generation. Stop filling them with hopelessness and doom and give them power and aspirations. Anyway, Peace by PEACE is a cool program, but it also requires a small amount of preparation, which means more work for me on top of my school work. And an early Tuesday morning *groan.*

I think that's all the time I can sacrifice today, and I think this has been a productive way to procrastinate, rather than browsing the pages of Facebook. Tell me where you think we need to start in order to see changes in the world.

Your friendly neighbourhood Erin.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Taking the Leap

So here I am. I've done it. I've started a blog.

I have been reading one of my old friend's blogs rather frequently, and it inspired me in such a great way. It's interesting because she just writes about everyday life and maybe adds a few recipes, but what struck me is her dedication to her views. I thought, how wonderful would it be to know how you viewed the world and to have beliefs to fall back on when everything seems confusing? Maybe that's idealistic and naive, and of course everyone's beliefs--no matter how strong-- get put into question from time to time, but I thought that I would like to set out on some kind of cliche quest to figure what exactly my core beliefs could be. As far as I know, I can't ally myself with a religion. I was raised a Unitarian Universalist, which although I still don't completely understand it to this day, my parents always explained it to me as a religion that picks and chooses from other religions, but basically believes in the interconnectedness of all beings. Which is pretty cool. And that's a nice thought to look at now and then and go: "Yeah, that's me, I believe in that." But it's not the kind of thing I contemplate every day, or perform rituals to consecrate myself to it everyday (which I know isn't what religion is about). So in some ways, it's a good start to figuring out what my beliefs are, but the nail hasn't been thoroughly whacked on the head.

However, I have taken a great interest in synchronicity.

Hmm, let's see. According the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, synchronicity means: the simultaneous occurence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible connection. KEY WORD: no discernible connection. Little does Oxford know, there might be some serious energy going on making these things synchronous. And even if synchronicity is a happy figment of my imagination, I would like to keep it that way. I don't see any harm in thinking that maybe if you act (or even think) in a certain way, it will have a rippling effect (hopefully positive). I think this belief is upheld in many different forms. Call it God, call it the Universe, call it Fate, call it Chance. Lots of people seem to think that, although the connection is indiscernible, it's there.

My interest in synchronicity first came to life when I read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (for some reason I always called her Julie in my head). The Artist's Way is a twelve-week course in a book on "Discovering and Recovering your Creative Self." It was one of my main projects during my year off before university. It changed my world, seriously. Of course, it got a little cheesy and a hoaxy and a little hard to take sometimes, but the things it taught me almost made its cheesiness, hoaxiness (that's just cynical) and the parts that were hard to take... take-able. Although it has taken nearly a year since starting it for that actual creative inspiration part to take effect, at the time, it taught me many valuable skills that seemingly had nothing to do with creativity. Number One, it helped me love myself again, after years of suffering from cripplingly low self esteem after the love of my life broke up with me (I was fifteen, it was real. Taking three years to get over it is real enough for me), so that was a nice outcome. Number Two, it got me hooked on writing three pages of WHATEVER every morning. I now, in an orderly fashion, get up an hour before I have to do anything in my day, do some basic yoga and write my three pages. Yoga was something I had been meaning to add into my morning routine anyway (or rather, the likeness of a morning routine that I had always dreamed of before then). Now, with this morning routine dream team of yoga and Pages, I start my day with a limber body (and hey! my chronic back pain went away!) and a clear, or somewhat sorted out, mind. The purpose of the Pages is to get out all the crap that normally bogs down your thoughts during the day. And seriously, if I skip Pages, I am a crazy person. They are a serious mental-health saver. I must have been in exactly the right spot, desperate to get my creative imagination and inspiration back when my friend Janet recommended The Artist's Way to me, that I didn't once question doing the Pages that "Julie" deemed I do every day. It was my year off, and I was ready to mould my life in any way, accept whatever kind of seemingly reputable advice I could get. (*Note: In the beginning, of course I missed some days of Pages---OK, several days---, and still do now and then. But Pages have become such an integrated part of my day that it seems weird not to do them. OK, I'm going on a bit of a tangent, but you know when you're like: "Aw, yea, I'm going to change my whole routine and add this and this and this in" and then after a couple days or a week (if you're lucky) it turns out to have been completely unrealistic? Well, either we all suck at committing to ourselves or are doing it for the wrong reasons, or incorporating Pages and yoga into my mornings was exceptionally manageable and realistic, neat). It also taught me many other valuable lessons, which I'm sure I'll get to in the future of this blog, because they really, truly are a big a part of my life now. I sound like a cheesy success story on one of those five-minute-long television adds trying to sell you something for just $29.99, buy now, satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.

HOWEVER what did The Artist's Way teach me about synchronicity that stuck? Well, basically "Julie" has this whole idea that there is a Great Creator (that was a concept that was reeeally hard for me to take, but I eventually kind of reconciled myself to it...but that's a story for another time, hopefully it will come up). Creativity is the energy that the Great Creator channels into you, or something like that. So "Julie" was saying that as soon as you start positively affirming your creative abilities and the value of yourself (By the way, Positive Affirmations are another kind of magic. Once again, they feel REALLY STUPID when you're doing them, but when you recognize that the cynical asshole who is saying they're stupid in your head is actually the weak one, you can enjoy believing positive things about yourself. Voila, step one to recovering from low self esteem), the Great Creator will start acting in mysterious ways. You will notice things in your life starting to point in the direction of what you're aiming for. People will start encouraging you along in subtle ways, you might see an ad posted somewhere that is something you're looking for, et cetera, you get the idea. And while the signs of this synchronicity don't come hurdling in your direction, you will begin to notice them, as soon as you open yourself up to them. I always get a little bit of a happy feeling inside when synchronicity gives me a pat on the shoulder. Sometimes I'll be thinking about something like taking a Calculus course so I can keep studying Psychology next year, and then the weekly talk I go to for the program I'm in will be a guy talking about how everybody can do Math and they're learning new ways of getting students who seem like they'll never get it to excel. It's pretty cool.

PHEWF. So now that I've explained my interest in synchronicity, I'll try to say a little about what else I'd like to get out of this blog.

I'm just about finished reading The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje. If you're clever, you'll notice that I've already included it in my favourite novels. I won't write in detail what I think about it, because that will be the special topic for a future post (but you can tell that I hate it so far). As well, I will be watching Pulp Fiction for the first time on Saturday, which according to one of my good friends is one of the best movies ever. One of the things I would like to use this blog for is writing reviews of books and movies. I don't know if I'm very good at writing reviews, and they won't be very intricately written. I'm the kind of person that writes reactions, so maybe I'll start calling them that instead. I don't go back over the book or movie to find specific passages and come up with some deep dark meaning, I give you my gut reaction upon finishing the else I have a reaction to. Maybe it will be mostly for my sake (as the rest of this blog is as well, let's be honest), but I hope that these "reactions" and that even the rest of my blog will give you something to think about, something to scoff at, something to laugh at, something to (hey!) react to.

This brings me to one of the principal reasons why I have issues sharing my writing and even have doubts about starting a blog. I am constantly, every day, scared shitless (sorry) of what people are thinking. Is my personality detestable? Is my appearance sloppy? Is what I say clumsy and stupid and a turn off? Is my laugh obnoxious? Is my writing Shit (that's right, capital S)? Is my writing boring as all get out? Is my writing too cliche and done-before? Is my writing trying too hard? Am I trying too hard? ...So. Needless to say, I had qualms with myself about starting a blog, which is a tool to primarily talk about YOUR thoughts and stuff that interests YOU. This blog is my big leap of faith, my hope that "leap and the net will appear" is a true statement. And despite all my nervousness and insecurities, almost every part of me is like "ERIN! DO IT! YOU'LL LOVE IT! THIS IS A GREAT IDEA! JUMP! LEAP! HOP!" I'm hoping that this will be a good way to get my stuff out there, even if I never do decide to post some of my writing (oh yeah, that's what else I'm going to do maybe, probably... because I've committed myself now, I have to... that's the idea...funny the games you have to play with yourself).

Another thing I'd like to do, which relates to Thought, is posting my thoughts about the stuff I'm learning at university, and the thoughts that occur to me about goodness-knows-what throughout my days. So I've left the subject(s) of this blog nice and vague so, hopefully, I won't run out of things to talk about or interest in it.

There. I hope I didn't use too many tangents (or side-bars and attempts at humour in brackets). If I did, oh well, I'm learning. AND THAT'S THE OTHER POINT OF THIS BLOG. I am learning, learning, learning in every way, all the time. And I hope to share my learnins' with you (whoever will read this). Maybe you'll get some learnins' too.

Thanks for caring and being a cool person.

Your friendly neighbourhood Erin.