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.