The end that is no end at all

Oh, sweet summer. The cicadas droning from somewhere near a bone-dry tree, leaves clapping in the breeze. Blades of grass tickling the skin while lying prostrate in the park. That sleep-inducing late afternoon haze. It was only weeks ago that summer was too distant a reality to believe in, but now it’s at our doorstep, and like all other summers, I’ve made a list of all the things I’m going to get done: knit a sweater for the fall. Quilt a quilt. Get a new and better job. Go to the gym four times a week. Enjoy the sun. Take photos of U of T while it’s empty. Look up what exactly the Golgi apparatus does. Make more mini-movies on campus, waking up at dawn (yikes).

 

Alas. There is a good chance I will not get through my list (or even any item on it). For most students, summer is the end of a year, an all-too brief four-month reprieve from the scholastic nightmare that culminates with the end of April. But for other students (like me) summer is not really a break at all: we enrol in summer classes. “Why?!” you ask. A good question. What on earth is there to gain from spending your only chance of freedom as an undergrad (and the nicest time of year) still in school?

For me, since I work 30 hours a week all year long, summer gives me the chance to catch up on the courses I didn’t have the time to do throughout the normal year (should I ever wish to graduate). If you need to repeat classes, summer’s a good time to get the job done fast. Or if you have to take those distribution requirement courses, again, summer gets them finished quickly. A few things I’ve learned about them, now that I’ve enrolled for the past three years:

a) They move really fast: half courses are up and finished in the short space of five or six weeks. This can be a good thing, if you’re looking to simply fill in some required credits, but it can also be really really bad. Be careful if you plan to take a notoriously difficult class (see the Anticalendar). It might not be worth it in the summer, which then becomes a good excuse to actually take the holiday while you can.

b) Language classes. Be careful! They can be lethal in the summer! During the normal school year staying on top of course work in languages (which, unlike some other classes, is totally mandatory if you actually want to learn the language) can be hard enough. In the summer it’s like a fast-forward grammatical triathlon. Instead of finishing two chapters a week (ten hours of homework minimum), you’re doing twice that- and as you’re in class four days a week, sometimes up to four hours at a time, and probably have a summer job to top, there’s very little time to fit in 20 hours for terminations and declensions, fun as they can be. 

c) Distribution Requirement Courses. I once groaned at the idea of taking stats or geography, but realized that there are some great classes you can take to fill the credit you need. My favourite to date was GLG110, probably the best summer course I’ve ever taken. It moved fast, started at 10 am (early enough to sleep in a bit but then was done by noon), and I learned about volcanoes, hurricanes, tectonic plates, and Hawaii: all the subjects (like trains and dinosaurs) that I thought were super fascinating as a child, but which I forgot about somehow between grade four and second year at U of T.

d) The classes are smaller in summer, which is always kind of nice. You can actually get to know your profs and they generally have a bit more time during office hours to help you out if you need it. But it also means that if you have labs and tutorials, you stand out if you’re not doing the work. 

I guess ultimately what I’ve learned after taking several of them is that while they’re not exactly reading-on-the-beach-with-a-Mai-Tai-kind-of-fun, summer courses don’t have to be teeth-pulling experiences. The school is relatively empty, so quiet study places abound. The sultry heat of summer days takes the edge off due dates and stress levels. And the campus’ courtyards play host to an assortment of musicians: merry little songbirds trumpeting their hearts out and cicadas fiddling in the mid-afternoon heat. 

- Mary

Lucyisms: on writing, success, and how to be crazy

It seems that when it comes to the good parts of life, we are always running out of time. Even when I was a little kid and thought that tying enough helium balloons to my arms would make me fly, my friends and I would hurry each other when playing dress-up, so that we could make the most out of our play time before her parents came to pick her up.

This is what I’ve managed to ultimately conclude as I sit here trying to write my perfect final UpbeaT post for this school year: the fact that life is short. But you already know that and are probably sick and tired of hearing about it. To be honest, writing this last post has proven to be an extremely difficult task. I figured that not only should it to be generic, meaningful, and fun, but it should also contain a fresh perspective -you know, nothing too cliché. I had actually put a ridiculous amount of time into it before losing almost an entire entry to the unfortunate event of my browser freezing. Later on, after finally getting over this sad loss, I was actually thankful that it happened, because it really wasn’t very good. So I decided to start over.

The one thing that I’ve learned from my UpbeaT experience this year, is that anything in life can be made into a story. This is where I think the art of writing lies: to make the extraordinary out of the ordinary, to capture and distill moments that otherwise would have been lost to time, and to dare to take a leap of faith and embrace a whole new perspective. Life, like writing, is all about the way you see it – it’s all about story-telling, the only difference being that the audience is yourself.

Another thing I’ve always known but never truly understood until this year, is that often success comes from relentlessly working despite not having any idea as to the outcomes. Sometimes this involves rejections – being temporarily certain of what your future won’t be. Sometimes it involves waiting – spotting end of the tunnel but not sure if you’d get there at this particular time. Sometimes it involves a blank picture – choosing to do something you normally wouldn’t do, and have it open up a whole new path.

I know that it takes a lot to still work hard when nothing looks particularly promising, when all this struggle and sweat might end up making no difference at all. For the past three years, I’ve been there – and so would all of us, for the rest of our lives, simply because nothing in life is absolutely certain. This year, I’ve learned to put less emphasis on the “expected results”, and considerably more on the process, and as Eckhart Tolle would say, on the “power of NOW”. The truth is, when we look back at our successes, we hardly ever dwell on how great the results are, but how amazing it is that we actually made it through the process, however difficult it has been. So I guess I’m here to tell you that no matter who you are, no matter how grim your situation looks right now, hang in there and be strong, because it will get better one day – just don’t lose hope, and work hard regardless of the circumstances. My dad always says that the darkness before dawn is the blackest. In my opinion, while there is nothing “blacker” than feeling confused and listless, it does make the elusive certainty that is dawn so much more worthwhile.

Like yours, my year has also been quite a roller coaster ride (and it’s far from over since exams have yet to make their final appearances). You know how sometimes people say things like “Life is crazy”? Well, it actually is, and since the day we were born, all we could really do is to take all that life’s thrown at us and learn how to deal. This year, I’ve finally learned the best way to deal the craziness that is life, is to simply be crazy with it. There is something compelling about the concept of extremity, possibly because of its definitive nature, and the way it symbolizes the very peak of human potential. To be extreme, to be distinct, to be the outlier – we all know this is what we should aim toward, yet so few of us actually put in the time and effort to go the distance. I used to wonder about how people can have faith when everything is so uncertain, and I think extremity might be the answer: it’s easy to have faith when you know you’ve given your best shot, when you know that there is nothing else you can do to improve your chances of success.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I wrote my first post for UpbeaT. Every week, writing for this blog has always been the one thing to help me break away from my humdrum life, so I think I’ll have to thank Student Life and its staff for this amazing opportunity. To all you readers out there, thank you for bearing with me through all of my craziness this year. I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to entertain you, scare you and hopefully inspire you. In the meantime, I just want you to know that I am very grateful for all of your comments and support, and for everything that you have done to make me smile.

Best of luck with your exams everyone! Have a fantastic summer! And remember, it’s “just a ride;)

–Lucy

Yes We Can – next year

[enter extreme reminiscent mode as Liesl shows you the post she made before school began to eat her. and you as well, most likely.]

You know how the beginning of every school year brings that feeling of childish hope, that this time, things will be different, by Jove’s Juice it will be different? You’ll do all your readings, go to all your classes, have the perfect schedule, become idealistically engaged in every class argument, save money, get the perfect job, buy every textbook used, sell every textbook, woo someone of the opposite preferred gender, write a novel, sell ten paintings, study abroad in Japan or South Africa or Ireland, waste just the right amount of time on Facebook, eat regular meals, hand in essays on time, and to top it all off,

sleep?

And with this childish hope, one has the polar opposite, unrealistically negative anticipation of pure, unbridled horrors and trials lurking nearby in the shadowy depths of the registrar’s office of your soul?

That was pretty much how I felt, kids. I guess… I supposed it’s how I still feel, seeing as how it’s only been two weeks since school started.

The first week went by quietly enough; my half-summer of dabbling in/merely dreaming of DIY and Japanese punk rock fashion did not lead to my wearing something fantastic on the first day. Rather, my hair had been stripped of its painful Ghanaian extensions and I had to wear a hat to hide the large, unsightly puff that was my head. I wanted an afro, but apparently they are high maintenance.

That was okay though! I have the whole year to look nice. More important than fun clothes, I managed to have at least one friend in all of my classes. No dashing individual with purple hair has approached me and professed love yet, but I can live without that.

Highlights!

  • I have the same English professor as last year for my English Literature course, thus there was no fear of the manifestation of ‘the crazy professor’ there.
  • ‘Reading Poetry!’ This course is… a little technical, i.e., painfully mathy but… I would still say… that… it is painfully mathy. Maybe I should read more than just that one super-technical textbook, huh?
  • The ‘Politics of Development’, which deals greatly with the developing world, still holds the most practical relevance, in my opinion, and hopefully I will look past any self-absorbed hatred for myself regarding my dwindling activism as of late and actually be propelled to do something. ‘Something’.
  • Lastly, the Graphic Novel! Obviously the one I enjoy the most, not only because I am a nerd (albeit of the gaming variety), but because we have actual close discussion time, and my friends in that course are actually interested in the material! Finally, the archetypal intellectual dudes-in-robes-arguing experience is happening to me.

Extracurriculars this year will include (drumroll for shameless plug) the Game Design and Development Club, tagging along to various LGBT events with my main gay, writing for various U of T… factions of publication, and I know there is a shorter word for that I just can’t think of it, and, overall, having fun while silently gaining momentum in my fervour to start a subversive art movement and take over the world.

So much potential fun to be had, its only inevitable the negativity is still… around… For various death-related reasons, I had a traumatizing summer, and any slight stressor usually sends me into a funk deeper than it need be. One comfort is remembering all the hilarious stories my Dad left me with of his university days… such as losing his ‘pet’ cobra in his dorm and thus having everyone on his floor join in the search for a thing described only as “something unusual”. So, I can only ask now:

WILL OUR HEROINE OVERCOME HER DEMONS AND ACHIEVE ALL HER DREAMS OF THE PERFECT SCHOOL EXPERIENCE AT LAST?!

And will she have such a good time that she’ll be able to stop talking about her feelings and focus on something that is not said heroine herself?!

I plan to keep this hopefulness up until my first essay is due.

__________________________________________________

About thirty minutes (read: exaggerating?) before the application for this blogging position was due, I looked at my crazy example post and cover letter (my resume being less crazy) and thought “BAAAAAHHHH HUMBUG. They’d never accept this anyway! BAAAHHHHH” Fifteen minutes before the deadline, I sent it in anyway. It wouldn’t hurt to try.

Then came the first, stiff post on that hilariously disappointing election we had, the slow gaining of the ability to be able to make jokes like that, and the eventual ‘clicking’ with the other bloggers (insert extreme sentiment).

And… yeah. I have to admit, this year probably would have been 703 times more difficult if I hadn’t. Y’know, for the standard, emo reasons… Would have been lonely, no incentive to try new things… no “better understanding of how U of T works, and how you have to make the most of your time here by yourself, and how you are fairly free to experience this place however you wish”. You just actually have to rise from your coffee-stained cave of textbooks and go find/do/start it yourself. Independence is good. Don’t be afraid to go off the path; unless of course, you are actually playing ‘The Path’. Then be as afraid as you want.

Not to mention how much I’ve learned from the other bloggers, just in terms… of how one looks at own their post-secondary stint. I think the aforementioned summertime traumas caused me to remain, as much as is possible for me, in a state of wariness and distrust, thusly… second-year was pretty much a year of absorption. The doing can come when I start trusting the world again.

Hopefully for most of you, you’ll figure out U of T’s independence factor nice and early. This place is like one super old Gothic mansion, the ones with three hundred rooms, secret passages, and attics filled with things the old owners forgot, or didn’t know what to do with, and the occasional ghost. The kind of old house you and your grandchildren couldn’t cover entirely by yourselves. So, um, cough, get started now.

This old house also has exams and a new flat fee heading our way, and if you’re like me, you await the summer with the same, crazy hope displayed in the above paragraphs. A brilliant summer job, money to spend, a portfolio to work on, Final Fantasy Tactics and Fable II to conquer, that sort of thing; all waiting for you after that long, tantalizing exam period. Perhaps your sleeping patterns have been wonky for the past week. Perhaps you’ve had one term paper due after another, totalling to seven thousand. Perhaps you already want to see the new calendar and be seduced by the short, 50 word descriptions of courses that may be far more boring than they sound. Perhaps, summer school (you poor, studious thing). A fifth perhaps; you may miss this year, just a bit.

-

Whatever you do, kids, good luck. Thanks for reading, and not bombarding us with such intarweb dialect as “lol u suck” or “dis iz gya wtf” or “I do not understand the point of this. Your take on the U of T experience lacks the–” or any such intolerance to how awesome we are. This has really helped me to peek my head from my ornate magic urn of hiding and low HP. I don’t know what else to say. I’m quite happy… I hope I’ve brightened the occasional day for you as well.

- Liesl

U of T Radio: Money Money Money

Chris is an undergrad who wears bowties and sweaters and threatens to leave a trail of energy on the floor behind him.

I work two days a week behind a desk at CIUT and when I hear the sound of someone scurrying, the odds are high it’s him.  He calls the office for last minute studio bookings to record things and is typically found tweaking the buttons of a soundboard or pounding things on a computer keyboard with his glasses halfway down his nose.

He’s got his Electric Boogaloo show, his Electric Boogaloo podcast, his Electric Boogaloo newsletter and his Electric Boogaloo blog. His guest list includes:

-Chicago violin genius Andrew Bird.
-New Pornographer, and accomplished solo artist, AC Newman.
-Premier alt country producer, and half of ‘She and Him’, Matt Ward.
-Husband and wife indie rockers Mates of State.
-Omaha dance party-ers The Faint.
-Earthy roots-rockers from Oregon Blitzen Trapper.
-The wildly entertaining Eagles of Death Metal, and Rich Aucoin.
He is a one-man media force and when he asks me to come on-air with him again for CIUT’s spring membership drive, I say yes for reasons going beyond the chocolate cake he promises to provide.

For the membership drive, he has to get 25 people to call in and donate $25 or more to his show to keep it on air, and if he doesn’t, he risks losing his show.

When I come by for the second half of his show at 1:00pm on Friday, his arms are close to his sides and his head is bent down over the audio dials. The cake is half finished in its box behind him with plastic spoons sticking out of it.

“This isn’t going as well as I’d hoped.”

All week, Chris has been helping other shows pitch, and during the second half the host of Beaver Lodge and a Take 5 member are sitting with me in the recording studio with headphones on and microphones in our faces.

We go over the reasons to donate, we list out the number to call, we discuss the station’s future move.

“The money you donate clearly goes to basic day to day functions. I mean, we’re broadcasting from an attic here. The bathroom has a huge hole in the roof…now, I’m used to a hole in the roof because there’s one just like it in my bathroom at home so I’m totally cool with looking up into the great beyond when I’m on the toilet, but that can seem weird for others…”

In July the building on 91 Saint George is getting demolished and the Rotman School of Management is taking over the space. Moving to Hart House is going to cost money, just to make the space adequate for sound recording and production. The fundraising this year feels a bit intense.

When the red ‘on-air’ light goes off, Chris plays his interviews with Bloc Party and the Weakerthans and begins to wonder how the phones are doing. The answer to that question isn’t a great one.

The station itself maybe isn’t as recognized on campus as it should be.

During the summer, spring and warmer days of fall, 89.5 has live concerts outside it’s building, where bands who are getting recorded for Take 5 (the morning show) play in public while doing this. The station offers Bridge to Broadcasting, where students (and anyone who is interested) can come in and get training on everything from news research, to working the sound board, to speaking on-air and essentially help put a news show on the air.

Chris’s show is one part of a unique station.

But it’s a recession and it’s not always easy to convince listeners to “give over the phone.”

In the last 10 minutes of the show, he asks one more time:

“How many more pledges do we need?”

“…ten more…”

The phone rings a couple more times.

When the show is over and the clock hits two, there’s a dip in the room’s energy level and Chris bites his lip.

“You know I’m a volunteer. I put like 15 hours a week into this thing. And I’m a student. There are other things that I should probably be doing…but I don’t.”  The uneaten remains of the cake sit quietly in the corner

“They won’t take me off the air for this though, I mean, yeah, they couldn’t…”

When I leave Chris is still in the studio.

.

.

.

.

A day later, I have a message in my inbox from Chris. It’s an e-mail a listener sent him:

 

Hi Chris,I am listening to your show from London UK […] and been listening to CIUT a lot these days. Your show comes across a lot of fun; I really dig the choir in the background
shouting the phone numbers. I have been listening for a while, and that hour
with the audience was my favorite!

Thanks for the show.

UpbeaT in the summer

Hi all, this is Chris Garbutt, the project manager for the UpbeaT student life blog. Thanks for reading all year! Now that the school year is drawing to a close, our UpbeaT bloggers will be taking a well-deserved break beginning in May, and we’ll see most of them again in September for a new school year. For the rest of April, you’ll be hearing from our bloggers once a week instead of every weekday.

But don’t go away! UpbeaT will continue publishing at least one post a week throughout the summer, and maybe even find some guest bloggers to add to the mix.

- Chris

A Kaleidoscope of Student Experience in 3 days!

Ah, the mutlitude of student experiences, culminated into one week to drive a person insane!

The Luncheon

I started my week on Monday with an English take home exam being slapped down on my desk, with a 48-hour deadline. “I can take it home!” I thought, happy as I reviewed over the incomprehensible Shakespeare questions. I stuffed the paper in my bag (hoping to symbolically bury the paper in my mind in order to enjoy my pre-planned luncheon, with no inhibitions).

A few friends and I had been planning to meet up for lunch in celebration of a legal competition we entered in February. We managed to meet up on Monday, a month after we initially planned it! Managing to organize the schedules between three U of T students and one York student was almost impossible!

We got the time and date down, but we still had to coordinate dietary concerns … one of us is vegetarian, one of us only eats halal meat, another can’t eat pork and the last one … well, she’s pretty easy going!

When I chose a restaurant, the criteria were based on something close to campus, decent price with lots of food, in which the atmosphere was condusive to talking.

We chose Thai Angels, located at 285 College Street, just past Spadina. Its about a 10 minute walk from College and St. George. When we walked down there, I was suprised at how dingy it looked. Graffiti was sprayed on the walls, individuals were sleeping on the ground and garbage everywhere. As we hit Spadina and I could see the red sign of the Thai Angels, I got a bit nervous … if the restaurant inside was anything like the area around it outside, it was going to be a rather smelly experience.

Lucky for us, the restaurant was a pleasant surprise. It was small, maybe the size of a large tutorial room the in basement of Sid Smith, but with a much more cozy, modern look. The restaurant was deserted (which resulted in good service and a healthy discussion environment). The menu was broad, ranging from vegetarian and noodles, to seafood, along with chicken options and beef. I ordered a Pad Thai and the other foods on the table included mango chicken with rice, peanut cashew seafood with rice, and more noodles!

After lunch, we went to the Second Cup on Starbucks and pigged out on mocha cake and oreo cake … mmm mmm! Phew, way to kill my diet!! :)

Monday was fabulous – four good friends getting together and enjoying a wonderful meal and dessert.

The Essay

Of course, by the time I got home at 9 p.m. on Monday after class I had to start that English assignment! I started my research, and by the time I went to bed, it was 2 a.m. Typical U of T student bedtime, nothing to be too worried about…

Yeah, right.

That english assignment drove me nuts! I spent all day researching and writing on Tuesday, and then I had class at 6. When I arrived back at Res around 9pm, I hadn’t completed more than a decent outline (sound familiar?) and it took me from Tuesday night till 5AM Wednesday morning to finish writing it. Thats the thing about U of T, the assignments take FOREVER!

 Teacher/T.A. Evaluations

This week, a lot of my professors handed out course evaluations, where students could grade the teacher and the T.A., and suggest helpful comments. In one of my courses, I was graded the T.A. VERY poorly, which is the the first time I’ve ever had to do so. I’m generally a lenient marker when it comes to evaluations, simply because I know that T.A.s and Profs work hard. But this T.A.! Man, it was brutal. There is generally an overall dissatisfaction from my whole tutorial, and it was a paradoxical experience having two sheets in front of me, grading (five being the highest and 1 being the lowest) a Professor (Fives and Fours) and a T.A. low (Ones, Twos). In one section, I started my own zero column! Eek!

The Sweaty Experience of Being Lost

Today I had to stop by Bahen to check up on an LSAT Prep meeting to make sure that it was running smoothly. I was at Bahen at 4:45pm for the meeting, and wandered around for 25 minutes looking frantically for the room. By five, I was frantically sweating, wondering if the building was warping into a crazy maze to permanently scar me for life. It was such an odd experience, probably what the typical new student feels when they come to this campus.

The Cheese Explosion v. The Critters

It isn’t over! I went down to the kitchen late last night to make macaroni and cheese and I opened the macaroni packet to have cheese … explode everywhere! The packet ripped the wrong way, and the cheese powder landed all over my clothes, on the floor, in the sink! When I bent down to clean up the powers, I saw a critter. A CRITTER! Ugh! I have an irrational fear of bugs…and it didn’t help when I turned toward the sink and saw a dead spider on the side. Way to ruin an appetite!

So far, I’ve been lost in a building, covered in cheese, went out with friends, stayed up all night for an assignment and it’s only been three days!

Enjoy your week friends!

- Fariya

Volunteering: Boon or Bane?

2006. Holding butterfly nets in the Financial District. 5 a.m.:

A flutter between my cupped hands, and a slight beating of feathered wings. In my hands I hold a little bird.

It’s a good thing my friend is so persuasive, or I never would have tried it. Waking up at 4:30 a.m. to bike downtown and wander around the financial district donning butterfly nets is neither comfortable nor glamorous. But my friend, an avid environmentalist, heard about FLAP, an organization that retrieves injured birds after they’ve flown into Toronto skyscrapers (which occurs with scary frequency during migration seasons), and brings them to a wildlife sanctuary to nurse them back to health so they can be set free again. She willfully persuaded me to join her, and the shame of wandering around downtown with nets soon gave way to a strange and alien feeling, what I can now only describe as a kind of reverence: in my hands I was holding the tiniest of creatures, say a barn swallow or a kingbird, who performed physical feats that I could only dream of – flying from above the Arctic Circle down to Mexico and back again; navigating rain and snow, city lights and wind turbines. There was something intoxicating about holding and helping something that was so small and superhuman.

2005, before 2006:

“Volunteering: Hohoho. Get real! Pay me, then I’ll consider it. Volunteering = anathema.”

Today, I guess my line of thinking hasn’t changed all that much – except that now, rather than immediately guffaw at the idea of spending what very little free time I have working but not getting paid, I’ve come to see that volunteering can actually be worthwhile. My disparagement has now become: “I wish I could get paid doing something this interesting.”

FLAP was my first experience volunteering, and aside from the early mornings, it left a remarkably good taste in my mouth. I’ve since been more willing to try out different positions, from time to time surveying availablities on U of T’s Career Centre website. It’s not that I am any richer now, or that I have more free time than I used to. I am still stuck at a crappy part-time job which helps me pay my bills, and am busier than ever with school. The difference is that I’ve realized that volunteering is actually worthwhile, a fact that my previous incarnation refused to ackowledge. It gives me work experience, teaches me skills, can be fun, and provides someone (or some bird) a service. Through volunteering I’ve been able to formulate some concrete ideas on what I do and don’t like about various kinds of work.

A major misconception about volunteering is that it will take up all of your free time. At U of T I’ve discovered two ways to volunteer that require barely any extra work, and which have both proven beneficial:

a) Being a volunteer note-taker. I already go to class, I already take notes, and reviewing them shortly after I initially write them down has only helped raise my marks. All I do is type the notes up or scan them and upload them, or I bring them to the Accessibility Services, where they can do this for me.

b) Being a history class representative. I hate talking in front of groups, it’s my Achilles’ Heel par excellence. But once I started taking fourth year seminars, class sizes diminished to around 10-15 people, and last term when the prof asked for a volunteer (I still don’t know what came over me) I reluctantly raised my hand after everyone else refused to. I realized that being a class rep is actually one of the easiest tasks around: the hardest part is remembering to make announcements when they’re emailed to me by the HSA. There is one meeting per term that reps are expected to go to (I’m ashamed to say that forgot to go this time around [but I still didn't get the sack!]), and I make the occasional class announcement. Simple and easy, and it kept me in touch not only with other history students, but also with the department at large.

-Mary