Sun, Sand and a New Perspective

Hola!

After a week on vacation, I have a new perspective on life – one that is certainly tainted in judgement by beautiful sunsets, shimmering ocean waters, a fresh sea-breeze and generous, hot sun. But nonetheless it is a new, all-consuming perspective on life.

Somehow, my post decided to end up in the trash, rather than on UpbeaT as previously planned. And with the promise of 2009 around the corner, it seems only fitting I should re-type my post during 2008, and make a New Year’s Resolution to hand my assignments to a person rather than slipping it under the office door and hoping for the best.

After all, very few people get A’s by crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, right?

But let me tell you, my dear amigos, that when you are lying on the beach, enjoying the sand, surf and sun, responsibility just seems so far away. And then, (of course), you get a real perspective on school and life.

I realized (while staring out at the water, of course, for revelations such as this come only when the ocean is kissing your feet) that when it comes to school, I’m never happy. I’m never happy because I’m always waiting.

I’m always waiting for …well, for my T.A. to give me an A, or at least provide more-than-pitiful reasons as to why I got a B. I’m waiting for my Professor to inspire me, or at least speak up louder in class, and provide a decent explanation as to what I have to do for my take-home exam. Sometimes I’m waiting for little things, like my fingers to take notes faster, or my pen to actually work, or a scholarship. I’m waiting for my brain to memorize the hundreds of textbook pages faster, and then effectively regurgitate it for exams. I’m not happy because the mark I got back was 2% lower than I hoped for, or I hit class average rather than above, or the lunch-lady gave me far too much curry than I would have ever put on my rice.

My problem is, as I discovered in Cancun, is that I allow myself to be defined by my marks and so I am always waiting to feel good enough.

You see, I want to be extraordinary.

Wait, scratch that, that’s ‘old Fariya’ thinking.

I am extraordinary

(and I say this in the humblest way possible, for I believe all humans are extraordinary).

But when it comes to school, I can only show how extraordinary I am by the marks I have achieved. I hate that! I simply hate it – why should my knowledge and passion in a course be represented my whether I choose A or D in a multiple choice exam? Why should a T.A. or Professor not realize how wonderful I am because only 3 students can receive an A to keep the class average at 70.8%, and I must get a B+? Why is it that Law School (or any other professional/graduate school for that matter) cares what my G.P.A. and LSAT score are, rather than the fact that I can argue the fuzz off a peach, achieve third place in a National Undergraduate Mooting Competition at the age of 18, and present in front of hundreds of people without any stage fright at all?

My old “I-like-the-trash-can-better” post contained resolutions of making new friends, attending more club events, and trying to develop new skills. My new post says you know all that already and I don’t need to tell you that.

Instead, take away this: do not allow your marks to define you even if they are As (which, by the way, despite my ranting, I am happy to say I achieved in ample courses).

Be better than the grade that the university stamps your forehead with, and believe that who you are, the potential you hold, and the things you can do, can be, and certainly are extraordinary.

It’s funny how, when you are a baby, everything you do seems to delight people. When you take your first step, say your first word, smile your first toothless grin, and close your eyes in peaceful sleep, all those around you are delighted and encouraging. As you get older, the miracles of exploration, laughter, and peace are considered ‘unsuitable’ as life skills and certainly not exemplary résumé skills.

But let me challenge you to look for something more – something better, something satisfying. Be exemplary, be extraordinary and take a leap. Fall in love, travel to a new country, give someone a home-made, heartfelt present, or do someone a favour. Be more than a C or B or even A, and instead, be U. Be the best You that you can be, and be amazing.

Remember, you will never know how high you can soar, until you spread your wings.

Have a Fabulous Christmas Break, my Dear Friends, and a Wonderful New Year.

Love,

Fariya

 

With Every End Comes a New Beginning

So another semester has come and gone. Since this is going to be my last post of 2008 for UpbeaT, before I say anything else, I’d just like to take a moment and thank all you faithful readers out there for your support. We write for you, and needless to say, you have all contributed hugely to this blog’s success so far. So, thank you. :)

I think that after all that adrenaline rush for the week of exams I barely survived, I’m now pretty much drained of energy. Meanwhile, we all know that while exams have ended, life nevertheless goes on. There are question marks everywhere, from not knowing our final grades on ROSI to the uncertainties of the US bailout plan of the auto industry. Personally, when the consequences of these events are potentially life-changing, I tend to take it not so well. Doubts and fears…I seriously think that should these be eradicated, we would live at least a decade longer.

I’ve come to realize that when we are bogged down with school and other more immediate life issues, there really isn’t any room in our lives for fearing the unknown, which, for some of us, constitutes life after graduation, and for other more global thinkers, the after-life in general. It’s only when the calm has once again returned, that we look around and realize, to our biggest horrors, that alas, the endings are “closer they appear” (see side view mirror on your car). It was only yesterday, sitting in front of my laptop and struggling with a huge writer’s block, that I realized that I was still stressed despite finishing my exams. My spirit was just so weighed down by everything that I wasn’t yet sure about, and it felt like if I didn’t do anything about all of it soon, the rest of my life that I’ve so carefully glued together would just fall to pieces in one blow. It was as if reality had suddenly kicked in, and a tiny voice inside my head nagged at my lala-ing self for believing – even if it was only temporary – that if you get it right once, you are home free.

True, if life were that simple, we’d all be sitting by the fireplace sipping EGGNOG (also, you wouldn’t need a VISA card). But reality is always much harsher than we’d like, no? Reflecting back on this past year, the one thing I’ve learned is that after doing everything you possibly could to propel a certain favourable outcome to an event, there’s nothing else you can do but to have faith, which entails that you exude a certain trust in your environment, your life and your future. As a self-proclaimed idealist, I’ve found that having faith simplifies the situation to a certain extent, and gives you the inner strength to carry on with your life and protects you from being paralyzed by fear. Although some may claim that optimism is genetic, it really just takes practice. Learn to let go and realize what it is that you cannot change and what it is that you are responsible for, which really just comes down to your own happiness and well-being. In that sense, why put yourself through hell when you could have it so much better? In the end, the only person that would end up suffering is yourself.

The funny thing is, often, when you have faith, things usually turn out for the better. If you’ve ever had a ring stuck on your finger that you can’t pull off, you’d know what I mean: the harder you pull on it, the tighter it seems to get. But once you forget about it and wait for a day or two, the ring just falls off on its own! Life’s weird like that.

To finish off my last post of this year, I’ve attached a badly-written poem to this post (as a blog-typed Christmas present, I suppose). I wrote this in my AP calculus class all the way back in grade 12. If you’ve already burned your notes, see if you’d still “get” some of the concepts hinted at in the poem. If you do, then give yourself a pat on the back – you do know some calculus after all!

Have a great break everybody! Eat, sleep and be merry.

[Ode To Calculus]

Disclaimer: The names mentioned in the poem refer purely to past mathematicians and/or physicists. Should your name also be one of the following, please realize that I have nothing personal against you. :D

Calculus, oh calculus, how do I loathe thee!
Why can’t you just be kind and let me be free?
Newton and Leibniz, what have I EVER done to you?
That would make you think of incredulous ways to torment me so?

Fermat why did you have to invent untangeable tangents?
Pascal, no offense but your triangle really sucks.
And to all the other mathematician wanna-be’s who are still working off their butts
I really suggest you go outside of your limits a little, because an exciting life awaits.

Really, if you think about it, “Gottfried” isn’t the coolest name
And a “jerk” is obviously unfriendly,
and it has a terrible fame
A human mind is usually sane, until the outside becomes inside and everything’s chained up
Thus discontinuities are mistaken for concavities, which can suddenly resemble a big cup

And don’t even talk sines to me, because I mistake one for another
Although they seem to own such a wonderful love triangle that they now closely resemble each other
And the log-ging industry (with crazy bases) doesn’t make sense either
As the weight of iron can suddenly be replaced with the weight of a feather

But alas the rates of these functions of life are all related to one another
And differentials and integrals can’t seem to live without each other
To optimize the situation at hand, derivatives are really the most useful
Perhaps when approaching an asymptote of melancholy, infinity will have to do.

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–Lucy

Chasing A’s at U of T

When I was in first year, I discovered the ultimate thesis – The Individual Vs. Society. It’s malleable and totally shapeable. It can work for equity studies, histories, literature (especially), art criticism and, in a pinch, anthropology. You can talk about how society has shaped the individual (and how this and that proves a wonderful conclusion), you can talk about how society is porous and involves a complex and yet moderated give and take between both individual and society and how neither are ever independent of the other. You can even talk about movements like modernism, and post modernism and how they redefine the concepts of ‘individual’…or ‘society’! Throw in some queer theory, or perhaps a dash of gender theory and some deep metaphysical reasoning in between well-thought-out quotes and strenuously recontextualized sources, and you may very well have yourself an A on your artsie paper.  U of T seems to really like this approach right now.

But, alas, there may be more to it than that…you also have to figure out who is marking you. If it is the TA…use as much of their ideas as possible…as long as you can configure it to individual vs. society. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter that you’re practically rewriting your tutorial, so long as your applying those concepts to a different book or passage that happens to be in the essay question you have to contend with.

If your prof. is marking your paper, you have tons more leeway to be yourself and write whatever you want in your paper…they apparently are less afraid of giving A’s and not such huge sticklers for minute marking details. They can also be slightly more excited by originality. This is especially true if your Prof. has tenure…if not…be wary…and follow the steps advised for TA appreaciability.

My point is that I seem to have found that writing a paper who’s mark I can really delight in is more about strategy and careful plotting than having fun and enjoying the academic resources I have at my disposal. When I hand in my paper, my worries are multiple:

a.)    Who’s marking this?

b.)   How many A’s are they allowed to give out?

c.)    How bright are my fellow classmates? Will they hog all the available A’s, making my inclusion into their circle a threat to the stability of the expected class average?

My fervent hope is usually to be graded right after some slacker who typed their conclusion while inebriated, or after some poor soul too full of stress and anxiety to carefully edit their sentence structure.

…maybe I shouldn’t admit these kinds of things…

Anyways, my point is that this is the way things in my classes here usually go, and going for essay help, meeting with TAs, talking to professors…really, my marks don’t really change too much after going through these little rounds…(I probably shouldn’t admit that either…) BUT the first part! Individual vs. society and pointedly bringing up what I’ve heard in class (whether to agree or disagree) this will bring me far!

So, basically, I was pretty awesome in first year. I actually got 100% on a history paper about Tibetan monks (I know…I was shocked too). In second year I was convinced of my genius when I got 89% in another course.

Anyways, the problem is that by third year I had deluded myself as to my brilliance.

You can only imagine the horribleness to come.

Basically, I had forgotten the golden rules of U of T artsie essay writing, and mistakenly thought I had some inherit merit of my own.

I believed I hadn’t suddenly gotten stupider, but there was, at some same time a tragic decreases in marks. I was going to class, writing notes, paying attention…but during assignments, I wanted to write my own ideas that had occurred to me in class.

This was not greeted warmly.

The comments I received were only adding to my frustration:

“I commend you for pursuing this topic! Truly ___ is an area that needs to be explored! However…._____ is really too broad to be explored in a 6 page paper.”

The frustration increased, my confidence decreased, and in all likelihood everything I churned out was probably pretentious, trite and crappy.

By fourth year, I really didn’t care and best of all, had found others that didn’t care either!

Together we expressed our creativity in our papers.

One friend added the word “tomfoolery” in every essay she wrote for a year, for the sheer entertainment value it gave her.

I personally went buck wild.  I took a History of Film course and wrote my final paper about the importance of the James Bond franchise, purposely scorning the traditionally more “important” films. I took Science Fiction literature and wrote my final paper on fornication between humans and robots…a trend I had noticed popping up in almost every book I had to read in there. In my literary theory course, for my final paper, I chose America’s Next Top Model Cycle 10 as my text of choice and explained it in the context of Boris Eichenbaum and Russian formalism.

I really don’t regret this. I had a lot of fun.

Some of my profs and TAs quite enjoyed my writings, whereas others were less than amused.

So…now I’m in my fifth year, and really, I’m working on cleaning up my act. It’s tough getting back to my frame of mind from fifth year…the thing is, you see, that I love high marks. Getting one is like a dear hug, it’s like validation, it’s like acceptance…almost like parental love. Not getting one is a refusal, a put down, it’s like being told you’re just one of the pack (in truth…it made me act out a bit.)

I realize that this is not a healthy attitude…

But I still have a semester left to straighten out and possibly reform my ways…

However…I think I’ll still try to work in a little tomfoolery every now and then if I can.

-Heather

A Cup of Summation with a Dash of Fortuity

Welp, my last exam is in… 44 minutes. Not looking forward to it. For various, emotional and psychological reasons, I have not been myself this semester. Keyword: Apathy. Subtext: Delusions of grandeur. Playing the DVD backwards: Unadulterated sadness.

But one half of me still managed to drag the grieving half through it. And dare I say it, forced her to have some fun* along the way.

I’ve gone through this semester with blinders on, forgotten my brain, and have almost lost the ability to speak with conviction. Case in point; this blog. Most of my posts have to take on a personal perspective because, quite frankly, I don’t trust my grasp on certain facts. If facts are given, they must be… factually perfect. Even now I go on about myself because I cannot think of anything else to say that will be useful for you. I can only hope that the ploofy feelings described will help you… I don’t know, think more about your own? Fear sucks. As does people telling you what you are and what you should be.

Have you ever just wanted everyone to BE QUIET?

So you can figure things out for yourself? I think there’s a reason why we all have different DNA; in order for thought processes to continually differentiate, until the human race becomes a collective of variant ideas and operative possibilities. Not to say all ideas are good; plenty use their brains to exact all kinds of hatred and atrocities. Removing those, we could have something really good going on, huh?

I’ve done a lot of thinking. A lot of thinking I don’t feel I need to elaborate on here. A lot of personal thinking. The way a student relates to their school life is often a reflection of their life as a whole. This is why low marks can lead to the furthest forms of self-hatred and inner contempt. This is why your choice in major/minor/specialist can make you feel like your whole life is a lie. It can easily be taken out of healthy perspective.

So. At the end of this semester, I better understand what I need to do to be… happy. Perhaps not happy. Maybe ‘content with myself’ is a better term. I don’t think, what with outside sources, unexpected events and unwanted interruptions, it is possible to be the conventional understanding of ‘happy’.

These are some things I have learned, or maybe things I need to be told, so I’d like to share them with any other students out there who are shy, angry, afraid, exasperated, and susceptible to soul-suckers, negative vibes, vampiric factions of society, self-hatred, demonic expectations, and general unhappiness.

  • Know your stuff. Perhaps more importantly, know that you know your stuff, so when the time comes to prove it, you don’t shut yourself up because you think you’re wrong.
  • Try to be honest and say what you feel. Lying about your feelings is draining. Saying nothing can be more draining, especially if you are prone to regret. Don’t be afraid to put someone off by telling the truth, because odds are they could care less about you when they talk, and may not even notice if they hurt you.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. I’m serious. I would not be writing this blog if I hadn’t decided at the last second to send my application in. Which, by the way, I had finished prior to the actual ‘last second’… If you don’t try, you’re actually wasting more time, or rather life, than if you do. Something is usually better than nothing, as nothing… is exactly that.
  • Don’t let negative influences sneak their way into your psyche. It’s difficult to extract them once they are deep enough. Even if it’s your parents, don’t let it get to you. Your parents, friends, boy/girlfriend, society, community, etc., cannot always love you unconditionally. So don’t rely on them. That, and you cannot love others as they need it if you cannot love yourself as you need it.
  • More on the negative influences in your psyche; don’t listen to them. Don’t focus on them. They will become you.
  • Do not let others make you feel ashamed of yourself, for any reason. Even if it’s a bad quality; if you can acknowledge it and work to change it, you don’t have to feel ashamed. Maybe that’s just the way you are. Unless, of course, you are an unabashed bigot or something. Then feel as ashamed as you want!**
  • Negative daydreaming is the devil. By this I mean, reoccurring visualizations of failure and the like. Your mind should be your first and foremost ally. Life is hard enough, and then your brain turns on you. Not good. Avoid.
  • Take books out from the library. For recreation. Chapters is for wusses.
  • Shopping will not make you feel better. Unless, you haven’t gone shopping in five years.
  • Pay attention to and learn everything. Newspapers, lists of ingredients, pamphlets, radio DJs, your textbooks, the news, intellectuals, annoying pundits, everything. Then, analyze it. Think about what you’ve just taken in, its perspective, what it’s trying to tell you, and what is really there. Always think. Cats meow, bees buzz, hippos do that flapping thing, humans think. If you take things at face value, you’re not thinking. Use caution only when analyzing people; you never really know someone (unless you ARE that someone).

And the final realization. I am on MSN with my cousin in Ottawa. When I sat down this afternoon, it was 12 something and she was heading back to school. It is now 3:28 pm.

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  • Time flies. Not just when you’re having fun. When you’re doing nothing.

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Thusly, always do something, always make sure you’re… living, I guess. Actively. Rather than… vegetable-ly-ly. Deactivate Facebook, read, doodle, call a friend, make a good meal just for you, study, study, cough hack study…

And that’s all I got. Whether I can do what I just wrote is something else.

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THIRTY MINUTES.

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*(existential internet vortex)

**But you’re probably not. ^_^

The Coming of the End: How to [Messily?] Wrap up Loose Ends

Like most other U of T students, I have just finished the fall term for 2008 (and boy does it feel good). Unlike the majority of other students, however, the end of this term signifies for me the beginning of a momentous event in my undergraduate career: the start of my last term [ever!] as an undergraduate student. There were times when both I (and my ever-fretting mother) thought the day would never come, yet here it is. This past term was a lot like many of the others that I’ve survived at U of T, and seeing as the next is my last as an undergraduate (and maybe my last as a student of any kind) I’ve been thinking about all the things I meant to do at the university that I haven’t yet.

As, over the past two weeks, I’ve somewhat exhausted list-making, here I’ll mention only a few of the things I really want to do before potentially leaving the school for good.

First and foremost, I really need to get myself over to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, where I’m desperately hoping that I’ll only be able to turn the pages of age-old books while wearing little cloth gloves. It sounds like a history student’s Shangri-La, filled with medieval manuscripts. Presumably the library smells like knowledge (dusty and sweet) and once arriving, I will never want to leave. I will most likely soon be letting you know if this is anything close to the truth.

Second, I will submit a few papers to the HSA (History Students’ Association) Journal, The Future of History. I have a pile of papers I’ve written over the past three and a half years, a half dozen of which I am sufficiently proud to submit for publication. (This includes one of my personal favourites, a 12-page paper on the nineteenth-century advent of the toilet as a popular household commodity, a catalyst behind the birth of modern medicine and urban infrastructure, and behind the death of outdated Victorian ideals on the body. I’m a little worried that the editors will be a bit insulted by it, as I have dubbed it The Toilet Paper: The Nineteenth Century’s Silent [But Deadly] Revolution, but I feel nonetheless that it is a worthy historical paper, and merits at least a try). 

Next term I will also photograph my favourite alleyways, nooks, crannies, and stained-glass windows: my favourite parts of the U of T campus. These I plan to amass into some sort of photographic map, to which I can turn to in later years to remember the school. 

And finally, this spring, when the tulips are in bloom, when apple trees pour out their blossoms onto the wind, when migrating birds belt out a thousand merry songs from bobbing tree branches, and when I am drowning in the murky blackness popularly known as U of T exam time; I will make a point of packing a tablecloth and basket full of food and scooting over to the campus to enjoy an early May picnic in one of the school’s more isolated courtyards.

-Mary

Steak vs. Plate – The Ultimate Theoretical Showdown!

I’m finished my exams, and I thought that all educational reflection was done for now–no more discourses and thinking! Then, yesterday morning, I re-heated last night’s dinner for breakfast. I had no idea, just then, that learning was to be afoot.

Anyways, the food in question was steak with a creamy mushroom sauce, alongside a baked potato. So I take the plate out of the fridge, put it into the microwave for 2 minutes on the High setting, and putter around the kitchen waiting for my food.

…That’s when I heard an ominous ‘pop’ sound come from the microwave. I was frightened then; did the potato explode? I hear they do that sometimes in microwaves—but this one was baked, so how could it do that? Exploding potatoes are only supposed to occur when they are solid, raw, and unscathed… but a baked potato challenges all of these criteria.

With trepidation I went to the microwave, wincing in advance, thinking of the clean-up job ahead of me… But alas, the potato was intact. However, the plate it was on was destroyed.

There was a split down the middle of the plate, a little bit of shattering had occurred, and the steak was on one side, separated from the potato by a fault line of broken porcelain.

I looked on in contemplation.

If I were chemistry major, I would probably be able to convincingly define this event in terms of those funny “ion” things–something about heat and expansion, and the rearrangement of particles?

That sounds about right.

However, I am no Chemistry major.

Instead, the only tools I have at hand are the products of an arts education… And how, do you ask, do they define the spectacle of my cracked plate, the separation of meat from potato?

More importantly, how does my education frame the way I experience life and the sights/events in it?

There is a chance that, for me, reality and the way I perceive it has been forever altered by the Faculty of Arts (but, tragically, not science) at the University of Toronto.

History:

This school of thought could probably draw connections from the described event to the partition of Germany by the allied forces in the aftermath of WWII. The plate once held a meal that was whole and unified by the very concept of “meal-ness” (as Germany was a whole country, unified by “German-ness”). However, in the aftermath of a period of tension (cold plate vs. hot temperature of the microwaves) the allied forces (microwaves) ultimately divided what was once unified. The end result = a steak and a potato, separated by a sharp divide, which culminates in the recognition of difference (* see Berlin Wall). The two are no longer one and suddenly… steak seems extremely different from potato. This serves as a terrific cold war allegory, with steak representing American occupied capitalist West Germany, and Potato representing Russian Communist occupied East Germany.

Women’s Studies:

Let’s go again with the idea that the breaking of the plate represents a false introduction of difference. One could say that in the most superficial sense Steak and Potato, as food products, share huge similarities. They go quite well together, one eats them both when one is hungry, and to be crass, the end result post-digestion renders them quite equal. Differences exist (nutritive value/components, how/where the foods are produced), however these differences do not divide the foods into hierarchies of difference. Instead, it is our ways of thinking about them that give them values of “better” or “worse”. The food pyramid, fad diets, these are cultural constructions that change the ways we interpret our food. This is like how gender divides the sexes, and inputs values on to “feminine” and “masculine”, and takes formerly benign traits, and assigns them to roles, and corresponding worth. The cracked plate is the construction of difference, an outside force that frames the steak and the potato. The crack is the western divide between masculinity and femininity. No longer one innocent meal, steak and potato become separate entities, their differences reinforced by the two different parts of the plate on which they rest.

An equity or post-colonial reading could also be constructed around a similar frame of argumentation.

Visual Art:

The visual arts student, when capturing this moment either by means of photography, painting, pen and ink, basic pencil sketch, or any other medium of choice, would seek not to merely capture the image, but also the possible ramifications of the image. The spectacle becomes one worthy of artistic interpretation, when one considers how the roles of food and plate have been disrupted. “Plate” is typically taken to be the more permanent of the two. Meals come and go, but dishes remain. Food is transient, but the plate can be counted on. However, in this case, the plate has shown itself to be more fallible than the food it serves. The plate lies broken and useless, outlasted in usefulness by the food perched on top of it’s broken halves. This reversal of roles and expectations lifts everyday objects into a realm worthy of contemplation, and for this reason, a subject worth artistic representation. It can be inspiring, showing the brief triumph of steak over plate. However, it could also be depressing, since it depicts the futility of relying of roles that are not dependable, instead these roles are easily disrupted by chance, as steak, potato, and plate demonstrate when introduced to microwave.

Philosophy:

Hinging on the Visual Arts explanation of Steak and Plate, one questions the very concept of “stability”. Both Steak and Plate are shown here to be non-permanent entities. Steak will be eaten (and was, I may point out) even if it outlasts Plate. Plate, thought to be long lasting, ultimately met the end of its life of use. Both Steak and Plate where then both created in the full knowledge that both would be destroyed—the steak would ultimately get eaten, and the plate, no matter what, in the end will ultimately be broken by some means or another. If stability means reliability and permanence, then stability does not apply to either Steak or Plate. So did Steak or Plate ever really exist? Lets say that stability is necessary for existence. If Steak and Plate are permanently in a state of flux and change (through the effects of time, breakdown etc. which exist whether or not the human eye can perceive it), then Steak and Plate are never continuously one thing. Steak and Plate can never exist because due to their continuously changing natures, since they are never the same from one point in time to another. The labels “Steak” and “Plate” fail to address the many changes both entities endure, and if these names are supposed to address the full range of changes the two endure, then the names are inaccurate for their lack of specificity. The very word “Steak” is therefore a falsity since it, in its act of providing a label, insinuates stability where stability does not exist.

English:

Alright, now I could be technical and make some sort of literary theory connection…but lets be honest here, that’s never as fun as “close reading”. What does the metaphor of a broken plate mean in the text that is my life? Probably something to do with the false divisions that I see as being all too real when I engage in personal introspection–in other words, I think too much about little things.

Anyways, my mother eventually came into the kitchen and found me staring at a broken dish. She questioned why this was so; and because I could think of no quick answer I went about the business of cleaning up and trying to not be late for work.

The end result of all this, was that learning can make you conceptualize life in all sorts of, erm, “fascinating”, and “different” ways…however “snapping out of it,” and going about as you were is almost frighteningly easy.

No matter how many realities you can take a peek through, there always seems the be the same old one waiting for you when you come out of your little metaphysical journey.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Either way, I’m done mocking my own education for now.

-Heather

A DIY Gift Guide for the Poor and Weird

A random assortment of gift ideas, for you. I broke my body, brain, and so-called ‘spirit’ this week, so, it’s a bit disjointed. I’m going to go cry now.

Box of Hugs/Kisses/Positive Mantras
Get an empty box… and fill it. Good for kids to give. Bad for kids to get.*
I recommend adding this gift along with another gift… You don’t want your figurative love to be plain laziness. The box can double as a storage box if you compress your love enough.

Make Your Cards so Gorgeous and Heartfelt That They Are the Gift
A 5 x 7” masterpiece. Yeah. But, seriously, if you personalize/artsy-it-up it enough, your loved one will appreciate your, cough, “unique” style and the time you put in making them a lovely card.
COUGH. They better.

Non-Sequitur Trinkets
If you’re doing the tiny gift bag thing for many of your friends, add… strange things. Strangely strange or strangely useful. Depends on who it’s for. Chop sticks (if you can’t eat with them, they’re hair pins), marbles, chap stick (which I lose often), tiny note pads, pens, paintbrushes, LED lights, I dunno, whatever. Extra, presentable trinkets from home are good. Think useful, or at least philosophical. Reuse. Dollar stores are a blessing, but… are also full of junk.
Also, bauble things.  These can also make great jewellery, i.e., if you were to glue them to ring-things, bracelet things… push pins…
And candy. Always, always… give candy.

Mixtapes/Things Like Them
Once upon a time, there were things called ‘mixtapes’. Through analog magic, one recorded a series of songs, or one’s own voice, onto a cassette tape and could present it as a gift to a friend or record label fiend or something to that effect.
Make a mixtape, or burn a cd of songs for your someone special, labels and all. If you can sing, why not add your own voice? If you can TALK, why not add unnecessary commentary after every track?! Do a MIX-PODCAST.
If you’re really crazy, try a mix-Data-CD/DVD storage thing. Instead of just music, you can load it with pictures, random word documents, poems, website links, downloaded games, pixel art, msn conversations, anything you like that is special to the both of you. Awwww.

Lessons
Can you play the guitar? I can’t. Give someone free lessons in some brilliant ninja skill you have, whether it be singing, drawing, doing backflips… If materialism feels necessary, make little coupon thingies and stick them in a card.

Compiling(s) of Why-I-Love-Yous
Fariya suggested a Powerpoint presentation of a 100 reasons why you love someone. Well, if that ain’t th’ sweetest thang I eva heard I must be listenin’ t’ honey now mustn’t I? 100 reasons why you love them, 100 reasons why they’re great, etc…
Or, make a small book of their best qualities. “NEVER LEAVE THE TOILET SEAT UP”
^_^

Favours
I stole this from a friend’s brain. Give ‘guaranteed’ favours; save for assassinations and other deplorable actions, offer to unconditionally help a friend out with… I dunno, the dishes, an assignment, moving… once again, the adorable paper coupons in a card are applicable.

A Personal Event
Insult someone all day long. I’m just kidding. Throw someone a ‘just for you’ party; cook lunch/dinner for them, pamper them for a day, just spend time with them… These are the kinds of things I hear people only do for their boyfriends and garbage on Valentine’s Day. Yeah, there are other people in your life, I’m sure, and days other than Valentine’s Day. [/scorn for youth]

Wearable Doodles
Decorate. Clothes.
White shirts are a good place to start. Use sharpies or fabric markers. I suggest Crayola, as others fabric markers can be expensive… as can fabric paint. Buy a white/light shirt in your loved one’s size (if you are certain of that size), steal a pair of your friend’s pants that they do not want, get blank canvas shoes from the craft store…
I want to say you can use plain acrylic paint for fabric as well, but I have yet to try it myself. It would also be 107% permanent, a frightening prospect for non-Monets.

Personalized/Theme Gift Baskets
For example, movie-themed, with popcorn, a DVD, a blanket, like this cute one here**. One can also try travel-themed, if your loved one has a country they’d love to/will visit, or if you’ve got a little person on your list who has yet to travel… Cat-themed, Star Wars-themed, Uncensored Bugs-Bunny themed, etc. Fill it with anything and everything pertaining to said theme. Darth Vader Pez Dispensers?
(**Yes, I frequent that site.)
Here are examples of more personalized gift baskets. Kind of like theme-y one, but… person-themed.
Such as a ‘pamper kit’ of bath stuff for Mom, ‘beer kit’ for Dad, a ‘memories’ kit for your best friend… For your sister… a Star Wars kit…
(Ha ha)

Collage covered/customized Blank Journals
You could even add secret messages every few pages. If you have time, can you make the journal yourself from scratch? Can you make the PAPER?  Can you handle the TRUTH?

The Deft of Needle
Haveth you the basics of sewing? Tote bags, and those little ipod/mp3/cell phone cases are easy and quick to make.
Sewing ninjas can advance to scarves and hats for winter! Sewing many ad nauseum can cover quite a few people on your list. Or I imagine it would. We’ll find out after exams, now won’t we.
And you know those expensive heating pads? Yeah. Dried corn in a sewn up bag. Right here.
(NB: I think rice works too.)

EATS
I can’t cook, I can’t bake, maybe you can. Everyone eats, thus everyone can appreciate food as a gift. Provided it’s fresh and all. A candy example; Peppermint bark, chocolate melted with broken candy canes, is super simple and super tasty.
Make, and present beautifully any food you are good at making. Those possible to save or refrigerate are always good. My mom makes meatpies for our family friends and presents them on lovely plates wrapped in cellophane with ribbon and whatnot, but people usually care about the meatpies.
Compile a book of quick recipes for your fellow, starving college student friends. Example here. Don’t be intimidated by the immaculate Martha Stewart presentation; it’s just a pretty binder with pretty paper.
Ironically, Stewart herself (or her site) provides what looks like a simpler version. No, I do not frequent this site. I don’t even know how I got there.
Or try a ‘recipe in a jar/box’, in which the ingredients are already packed in nicely and ready to use.
Lastly, minimize the waste you produce. Use the comics section of a newspaper as gift wrap, save the wrapping you get, use and old (WASHED) shirt, do whatever, use your brain. Get creative. I’m tired, go away.

LINKS

Message board thread of random ideas from random individuals.

DIY Gifts for Geeks. Contains a ‘winter emergency car kit’ you can put together for cheap.

Inexpensive DIY Gift Roundup #4: Gifts for Teens & Twenty-somethings Or so they say. I kid.

DIY Network: Christmas Gifts . Plentiful, but some possibly time-consuming.

A Do-It-Yourself Christmas: 34 Great Gifts You Can Make Yourself. You will spot for yourself which ideas I ‘borrowed’.

-Liesl

* (blank stare) “But I wanted an Xbox…”

All This Injustice

There comes a point in every relationship when one suddenly comes to the brutal realization that his or her significant other is actually not perfect. As a result, dissatisfaction ensues, and the outcome? Conflict.

Interestingly, in many cases, this is very similar to what happens in the academic world: somehow I’ve always felt like by choosing to take a course, I commit myself to a semester-long academic “relationship” with it. Like in a relationship, the beginning of the course is often filled with anticipation, excitement, and a certain curiosity for knowledge (unless it’s chemistry, my nemesis). If it turns out to be a bad choice, then by the time you finally realize what a rut you’ve gotten yourself into by merely choosing to commit, it’s usually no longer worth it to call it quits. You try to convince yourself that since you’ve put so much effort into it already, it’s better to just stick with it–who knows, maybe if you strategically maneuver your way through the problems, it could be…a learning experience?

Alas, life is never that simple. Fate decides to interfere, deals a few of its cards, and BAM! Next thing you know, there’s an ugly grade on your transcript that totally makes you cringe every time you look at it, and thus you are no longer able to see the course or the prof in a positive light.

The other day, I contemplated about dissatisfaction in general. Everybody hates to feel dissatisfied, whether it’s in a relationship or in a course at school. We feel like we really do deserve better, but somehow our efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated. How is the standard of evaluation constructed? How fair is it anyway? And how can we, often the victims of such injustice, voice our views and opinions?

Conflict is defined as the process in which the party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party, and often arises due to differences in goals, values or beliefs, or, it could be due to simple miscommunication. In relationships, open communication and empathy are necessary for any constructive conflict resolution to take place. Similarly, when you don’t end up receiving the mark that you deserve on an essay or an assignment, it’s critical to first put yourself in the evaluator’s shoes, and try to see things from his or her point of view. Take the initiative, go to their office hours, and discuss face-to-face with them why they gave you the mark they did, while humbly asking for what could be improved. Sharing your thoughts not only lessens the potential for animosity to arise, but can also help you to spot any of your own arguments that might actually be unreasonable. Sometimes even just talking about it with the professor or TA would make you feel a lot better, regardless of whether or not your mark was changed as a result of this.

If you truly feel that you deserved a higher mark, do not get defensive. Marks are so important to so many of us that we could go great lengths fighting for that extra 1%. This however does not give us the right to negatively approach grade-sensitive topics. After all, professors are also human and deserve to be respected. Moreover, often the issue lies with the fact that they don’t know what the problem is, rather than that they know yet don’t care. Before asking for a mark increase, carefully structure your arguments so that they maximally benefit you. Be logical and don’t whine–desperate students usually leave a very bad impression on professors, and, if the argument was not effective, it could potentially create tension between you and the evaluator and really burn bridges.

In extreme cases, such as where students of an entire course had has their final course grade bell-curved downwards, it’s important to know your rights. For last year’s PSL302 (Human Physiology), for example, the entire class’s average was linearly lowered by 4% (more information on the issue can be found here). The process of appeal used in this particular case offers great insight as to what we can do should we encounter similar situations in the future. Potential sources of help include but are not limited to:

No matter what kind of ugly situation you end up encountering, at the end of the day, what you really need is to come to terms with yourself. Is a couple of marks really worth all that time and effort? Greatness does not only entail that one fights for what he or she believes in, but also in acknowledging when to let go. Those who have the courage to shrug and say “que sera sera” might not have the best marks or the most lengthy relationships, but they might just be the happiest bunch.

–Lucy

How To Avoid A Giant Pain In The Backside

I like U of T, I really do. But being a good student here sometimes turns out to be a real pain in my back. It’s exam time, which normally means that for the last month and a half, thanks to the plethora of end of term assignments due, I’ve been hunched over a desk for hours each day. Hours turn into days, days into weeks. For some really avid students who study diligently from the get-go of the term, totally sedentary lifestyles can go on for months. After thirteen weeks of sitting in a single chair for days, of going to bed far too late, and of eating the last of the groceries in my kitchen with a spoon (read: peanut butter), I start to notice the extent to which my body is unimpressed with me. The first signs, starting around week nine, include a bit of extra padding in the mid-section, or a kink in the back that inhibits me from easily standing up straight. By week thirteen, it’s a gaunt, grey skin tone and the inevitable appearance of those cursed circles below my eyes, darkening at an exponential rate.

So this year I performed the impossible: I opted for a new strategy. I took a stand against my self-imposed asceticism and made a few changes. In other words, above all other things, this term I paid attention to my health.

Here’s what I found:

1) Masochism. As in, sitting at a desk for hours on end is severely masochistic. We were not born in office chairs, and if we’re lucky we will not die in them either. It doesn’t take much to take a break once every hour. I find getting up, walking around, stretching, interacting with other human beings (yay: roommates!), or having a cup of tea breaks up the inactivity and ultimately ends in the ability to study a little longer. (Permitted that you don’t succumb to your roommate’s invitation to go out for a pint).

2) All you need are sneakers. Lulu Lemon matching tops and bottoms don’t increase your heart rate. I’m always strapped for cash at this time of year, which makes some options (yoga classes, pilates, fancy gym memberships) seem a little unreasonable. Luckily, as U of T students we don’t need to pay any extra fees to join a gym as we all have free access to the Hart House, complete with a healthy assortment of free classes happening throughout the week.

You live off campus? You can also join the YMCA at very little cost. The Y offers a membership assistance program for members (like students) whose budgets are really tight.

And if you’re simply not into the gym thing at all, you can still put on your sneakers and go out jogging a couple times a week.

3) Do it with a friend. It’s far too easy to push the snooze button at 7 am and, in consequence, to run out of time to get to the gym. Promising to meet a friend at the gym or on the corner to go jogging is great reinforcement for getting up. 

It’s hard to persuade yourself when you’re really busy that spending time going to the gym is a worthwhile activity. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all of my best terms have occurred when I take the time to exercise regularly. I’m sure there is a science student somewhere who could explain why this is so.

4) Walk or bike to school. If you live off-campus you’ll know that the streetcars in Toronto are fairly regular, but the traffic is deplorable. So bad, in fact, that chances are that if you bike to campus, you’ll actually save yourself a bit of time. I live a 45 minute walk from school, but I only save ten minutes if I take a tram. If you can organize your time so that you have an extra (oh so small!) ten minutes every morning, you can easily get an hour’s exercise each day that you’re on campus.

5) Sit up straight. I don’t care how much I sound like your mom. Take it from someone with chronic lower back problems: slouching can be very, very bad for you. Use those stomach muscles.

6) Sleep. Divine, sublime, glorious sleep.

7) Read fiction before you go to bed. Or something recreational. Being in school does not preclude reading for pure enjoyment. I don’t think U of T’s mandate is to make you hate reading, or to ensure that you never have the time to get through the Harry Potter series.

8) Try Korean. Just because you’re way too busy to find the time to cook doesn’t mean you have to resort to eating Big Macs for a month. Try getting Korean, Vietnamese, or Ethiopian. There are lots of healthy and delicious restaurants near campus that cost the same amount (or less) as a fast food meal, and whose ingredients weren’t grown in an industrial lab in Etobicoke. I am always amazed at how much more I can do in a day when I have eaten properly.

9) Coffee is not water. Too much coffee does strange things to the body and to the mind. Insomnia, gut rot, over-stimulation of the nervous system. I’m not saying cut it out entirely (I admittedly will never do so) but keeping caffeine intake under control can really reduce the side effects of stress.

10) Don’t take it too, too seriously. Chances are we will still survive. Even if we get a B.

-Mary

The Monsters

I’m tired of talking about exams. Really tired.

 

I know they’re out there.

Looming in the distance.

Under my bed.

In my closet.

In the dark.

In my books.

In my laundry basket.

 

With their long creepy green fingers and large, shark-like teeth, they reach for me while grinning manically.

 

I know they are trying to get me.

There is nowhere to run.

Nowhere to hide.

No one to save me.

 

I can see them in other people’s faces.

In their tired eyes.

In their coffee-spiked, shaking hands.

In their worry lines.

In the drooping of their mouth.

 

Exams.

 

They are one of the deadliest forces in of the world. They consume the mind of students – like a disease.

 

Be strong.

Be Fierce.

 

 

Trust no one.

 

 - Fariya

_________________________________________________________________________________

*Disclaimer: This is a one-sided view to exams and is not promoting exam hatred.