Before I made the decision to finish my education, I was fortunate enough to experience the beginnings of a promising career in social innovation. It was an exciting time because I was working in a community transitioning between a decade long recession and a promise of economic recovery. This community, at the time, was being courted by several large-scale industrial projects with deep pockets. Though the social implications from these projects’ investments were mostly welcome, the challenge lay in figuring out how best to benefit from them, while mitigating as many negative social impacts as possible. The majority of my work involved leading projects that required me to be immersed in the world of social innovation.
Unfortunately, for all of the work I was doing on the ground, there were always significant obstacles being met at higher levels. I guess this is the plight of grassroots movements, but as frustrating as it was to experience, it also brought me to an understanding of the difficulties faced by today’s social innovators. In this understanding, the only way I could see myself becoming a more effective social innovator was to finish my degree and gain more access to higher level decision-making processes.
When I was a kid, my parents used to have the hardest time trying to put me to bed. I was a night owl. I had an arsenal of tactics that I would use against my war with bed time. I was definitely no stranger to the ‘five more minutes’ argument, nor was I shy about feigning ignorance and claiming ‘I didn’t hear you’ while putting on my best pout. I think my favourite strategy was hiding from my parents as soon as I knew bed time was coming. It was like getting to play a game of high stakes hide and seek with opponents who had a deep hatred for the game, oh the adrenaline. It was such a bonus: I got to force my parents into a game of hide and seek AND stay up later than my bed time, especially if I found a really good place to hide. My antics definitely did not go unnoticed by my siblings. I was the poster child for bad bed time influence. Looking back, it surprises me how many sleepovers I was able to secure in my childhood.
I remember when my mother gave me my grandfather’s dog tag. I was ten years old. I never met the man because he died before I was born, but my mother made sure to never let me forget that he was a soldier who fought in the Korean war. After receiving his dog tag, my grandfather, the stuff of legends to a young boy like myself, became even more legendary. Being able to run my fingers along the cool engraving of his name tied my history tighter to a war that I only ever heard stories of. That moment brought me face to face with my military family line.
I also remember the first time I heard Soldier’s Tower sing. The hauntingly beautiful aria of the 51-bell carillon froze me in my tracks. It was quarter to seven on a non-descript summer evening, and I just finished a workout at Hart House. I remember exiting through the back door and as I crossed the parking lot adjacent to Back Campus, the carillon started playing. I was confused because there were fifteen minutes left before the hour, but even so, every note that rang from Soldier’s Tower resonated deeply within me. Every note reminded me of the grandfather I never met.
The way I see it, university is mainly about two things: reading and writing. Obviously this is an oversimplified view of what it means to be a student at University of Toronto, but one can hardly deny that outside of lectures and tutorials, the majority of student life is spent with either your nose in a book, or your fingers frantically typing away at an essay. I acknowledge that for some programs, essay writing isn’t a big component, but if you replace essays with problem sets or lab reports, the amount of writing that needs to be done for those are probably at par with writing essays.
I mention this because last Friday, I attended a critical reading seminar at E.J. Pratt Library and so I thought, why not write about what I learned at the seminar. Earlier this year, I wrote a post about going to the Writing Plus workshop offered by the Writing Centre. I was surprised by what I took away from the workshop so I thought to myself, lets see what I can take away from a critical reading seminar. Much like the Writing Plus workshop, I really wasn’t expecting to walk away from the seminar with very much in the way of new insights, but unsurprisingly, there were significant nuggets of wisdom that I thankfully was able grasp!
I chose to live alone, and for all intents and purposes I truly enjoy living without a roommate. I have the freedom to walk around in my boxers as I please while singing nineties pop songs at the top of my lungs. On a more practical level, I thought that living alone would allow me to live in a haven of focus and concentration. A space where I could hide away and focus on my studies without distraction. It turns out that my apartment will probably never become a distraction-free study space.
But to compensate for the bounty of distraction that I face in my apartment, I have learned the value of essentially living in various libraries, and by various, I mean three different ones. So I thought I would write about them.
When I think of October, grainy vignettes of nights spent in Robarts during extended hours begin cycling through my memory. Moving images in sepia of myself weeping as I struggle to finish multiple essays due the next day; or in grayscale, of myself flustered as I burn my tongue on my second pot of coffee in an attempt to stay lucid while I rush to learn neglected chapters because the midterm is in nine hours, are two of the many depressing images that I automatically associate with this spooky month. Sometimes, for tolerability’s sake, I accompany these memories with a cameo of a sad panda playing a tiny violin. Essentially, October has come to represent an exhaustingly, unhealthy concoction of sleepless nights and excessive stress.
Surprisingly, this is where volunteerism has swooped in to save the day.
Maybe it was the unusual way my Saturday began, but the brisk morning air stood out significantly in my memory. It was a stark reminder that the summer days were getting shorter and that autumn would soon be in full swing. The arrival of autumn was something I needed to brace myself for, something that required preparation. And much like the arrival of that cool season, I needed to brace myself for when my classes got into their full swing, I needed to prepare.
Usually, I’m a morning person. Usually, I love waking up to the dawn breaking over the horizon. There’s something invigorating about how the smell of fresh coffee curls around the cool and slightly damp morning air. I can’t help but fall in love with it over and over and over again. BUT there are some mornings when just the thought of leaving the soft warmth of my pillow conjures feelings of fear and dread right in the deepest and darkest crevices of my soft heart and fragile mind. Monday morning was one of them.
Waking up to a new school year always gives me butterflies. Butterflies from all of the new prospects that the new school year holds. How many new friends will I make this year? Will I find a good mentor in one of my profs? So many things to look forward to, but equally as many things to be nervous about.