Archive for December, 2009


The Aftermath

Everything went as expected, for better or for worse. Most of my family was overjoyed to hear the news. Several full out whoops were heard.

My parents didn’t react one way or the other, at first. And then they started asking a bunch of questions. Especially my dad. He asked me why I made my decision, where I was planning on living next year, whether my marks would transfer over, whether I had spoken to anyone about finding housing next year, whether I was at a disadvantage by doing this, and etc.

He then essentially ruled out the idea of me living at home next year. I’m not happy about that. Even though the first thing I did last year when deciding where to go was rule out living at home, I’d still like the option this time around.

With that said, I think that I’ll be happy if I can find a few friends to live with in the city. At the very least, I’ll be happier than I am now. And even if I’m living in the city, I can still come home at any time, weekend or weekday, for any reason whatsoever. So, we’ll see.

I want to avoid discussing this issue with my family for a few days. That will give my dad enough time to analyze the issue to his heart’s content, and will give me some time to continue the process. The next two steps are to ensure that the transfer process does succeed, and to try to find somewhere to live. Hopefully all goes well.

The Announcement

Normally I like to give a little preamble before I announce something big. I like to build up the suspense before following through with an explosive revelation. This time, however, I’m going to keep it short.I’m not happy at Queen’s. That much is obvious to just about everyone.

As such, I will be applying for transfer to the University of Toronto for next year. The process is already underway. Actually, I started filling out forms in mid-October.

There are three reasons why I waited until now to announce it.

Firstly, I needed to be sure of my decision. I wrote that blog about finding That One Special Thing a while back, and I had to be sure that I wouldn’t find it here before I made my decision to leave.

Secondly, I needed to know more about the process of applying for transfer. That’s what my meeting on the 16th was supposed to be about. I was supposed to speak with my old guidance counsellor about transferring, and arrange for her to send my high school marks to UofT. Unfortunately, she wasn’t there. No matter, there will be more opportunities for that in the new year.

Thirdly, I needed a big occasion for unveiling my decision. For dramatic purposes, you see. I don’t want just my parents and siblings present when I unveil my decision. I want my whole family around, since it’s because of them that I made this decision in the first place. I could just announce it at dinner one day and then call all the other relatives via telephone, but that’s far less exciting. In my family, there are three big gatherings per year. Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Easter. Thanksgiving came too early. I wasn’t sure of my decision yet. Easter will come far too late. That leaves Christmas Eve. Today.

I haven’t told them yet, but I will within a few hours. I wonder how they’ll take it.

My grandparents will be overjoyed, since they wanted me to stay in the first place. My brother too, as he’s been constantly demanding that I transfer since last June. I’m not sure about my sister. She seems to miss me, but then whenever I’m home, she wants me to leave again. Overall though, I think she’ll be happy. As much as we like to annoy
each other, we have a good relationship deep down.

My parents? I think they’ll be a mixed bag. They’ll be happy that I’m coming back, but at the same time I don’t think they’ll be happy to learn that I’m not doing as well here as my thinly veiled facade would have them believe. I don’t think they’ll be very surprised though.

Everyone else in my family should take it well. They supported me when I made my decision to leave, but I think that they like having me around as much as I like having them around.

So, it should go well. I’m a little nervous about telling them, but it should be fine.

I guess the next question that I have to answer is: Why?

There are three main reasons.

Firstly, Queen’s isn’t good for me. Not mentally, and not physically. I’m not eating well, and not sleeping well. I’m spending far too much time missing home. It just isn’t good for me to live my life like this. Not for four years.

Secondly, Queen’s isn’t what I thought it would be. Two examples of this are the library and the “legendary” Queen’s spirit.

Because of period two spare, the quality of a school’s libraries was a factor in my decision making process. The main library at Queen’s is a gorgeous building. It far outstrips any of UofT’s libraries. I figured that I would be spending countless hours studying in this library. But in reality, it’s impractical. Why on earth would I walk ten minutes through subzero temperatures to get to a crowded building when I could study in my own room? The architecture isn’t nearly as nice in my room, but it’s quiet and it’s comfortable. The ten minute walk to the library just isn’t worth it. I think I’ve spent maybe two hours there over the last four months.

Having gone to a spirited high school, the fact that school spirit at Queen’s often rates at the top or near the top of the Canadian rankings appealed to me. I was excited to become a part of it. But when I got to Queen’s, I was let down. There’s spirit, sure. But it’s nothing compared to what we had at my high school. I’ve spoken to my high school friends about this, and they agree with me. If I had my psychology textbook with me, I’d tell you what this is called. I think it’s called the negative contrast effect. If you’re paying someone $1 and double their salary to $2, they’ll be happy. If you’re paying someone $4 and decrease their salary to $2, they’ll be unhappy. In the same way, I’m sure that a lot of people are very impressed with the amount of spirit at Queen’s. I’m somewhat disappointed by it, however.

But why is going to UofT the solution to these problems? The libraries at UofT are equally impractical, and ugly too. The spirit at UofT is even less that Queen’s. There are drunken teenagers everywhere, not just at Queen’s. Going to UofT would only compound these problems.

It seems, then, that university in general isn’t an environment in which I can be happy. Queen’s isn’t the problem. University is. This brings me to the third reason:

My family and friends.

If I’m doomed to be less than happy until 2013, I’d rather be around them. I can’t stay unhappy long when I’m with them.

I gravely miscalculated the importance of these people to my life. I mean, I always knew that they were important, and I always held them in the highest regard, but I didn’t think that my very existence on a day-to-day basis depended on them.

I said a few times during my decision-making process that my friends and family are loyal people, and that they’d still be there for me even if I went to the moon for university. I’ve discovered that to be true. However, I completely discounted the importance of having them physically there for me.

When I came up with a 14-14 tie after I compared UofT and Queen’s on fifteen different levels. I gave 7 points to UofT for family and friends. That was a gross underestimation of their value to me. I’ve since discovered that in reality, having all of my friends and family around me is worth about ten thousand times as much. 70,000 points.

The final score?

UofT: 70,007
Queen’s: 14

Don’t you see? It’s no contest.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Cling

At what point are you supposed to cling? At what point are you supposed to say "You know, I’m fairly content with where I’m at in my life right now, and I think I’m just going to settle down and keep things as they are."?

I first tried to cling on my tenth birthday. I told my parents that I was completely opposed to the rate at which I was growing up, and demanded that it stop. My demands were not met.

I tried again in grade nine. I was watching a movie with my elementary school friends, and I remember thinking to myself at one point: "These are my true friends. Not the guys at my high school." And so I tried to hold them. And I failed. Had I not failed, maybe I wouldn’t have enjoyed high school as much as I did.

I’m trying to cling again now. I’m saying that the people who I’m friends with now are my true friends, and to hell with everybody else.

I just want to know when life is supposed to become stable. Because apparently elementary school is just preparation for high school, and you’re expected to lose 90% of the people you met in elementary school when you move on to high school. And apparently high school is just preparation for university, and you’re expected to lose 90% of the people you met in high school when you move on to university.

What’s next? Is university just preparation for the "real world"? Does it ever end?

At some point, you’ve got to cling on to what you have. I don’t just mean the people in your life, I mean your way of life as a whole.

But where is that point?

The reason I’m asking is that this past Thursday I sat in my high school’s cafeteria with seventy or so of my old classmates, and we shared a meal. And for those two hours, I was very happy. Clinging onto that school and those people just felt right. But I felt that way after elementary school too, and had I succeeded in holding onto that way of life, high school would have been crappy. So, I’m torn. Do I hold on to what I have? Or will that only hurt me in the long run?

I just want some stability in my life, that’s all.

What did you guys do before you played video games?And I realize that a decent chunk of my audience either never played video games, or stopped playing video games long ago. So to you guys, I guess I have to ask what you did before the Internet became big.

I mean, the Internet has been around for a few decades now, but it never became really popular until the late 90s. So, what did you do before then?

Me? I had a bunch of toys and whatnot, but what I enjoyed most was playing board games with my family. Every Saturday night we would play a board game. Monopoly, Sorry, Clue, Candyland, whatever. Back in those days it was just me, my baby sister, and my parents. It was so much fun. I’d demand a Family Game Night, I’d go downstairs, pick out the game, bring it upstairs, and we’d play for an hour or so.

As my sister got older, her presence made it more difficult to play, as she had a habit of getting restless and kicking the game board, sending pieces flying everywhere and effectively ending the game. I was always mad, but it didn’t matter much. I mean, it’s not like we ever finished a game anyhow.

I loved it when my aunt joined us in a Family Game Night. She liked Monopoly more than anything. Of course, Monopoly is a fickle maiden in that it takes so long to get through a game if you play it properly. So, my aunt proposed that we “save” games by writing down all of our properties, money totals and everything else on a sheet of paper and then continue it the next time. Even still, I don’t think that we ever finished a game. But it was still cool because it was something that we’d all do together as a family.

Card games were important too. Especially when we went to my grandmother’s house, where my aunt lived at the time. My grandmother raised me almost as much as my own mother. Before I started school, I went there four days per week, and after I started school I still went there every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So, I was there fairly regularly. And whenever I’d get bored, my aunt would bring out the deck of cards and we’d play. Stealing War and Crazy Eights were our two games of choice. When my sister became old enough, she joined in, and my aunt’s boyfriend would occasionally join us as well. Jeff was his name, though we either referred to him as “Uncle Spike” (because of his hair style) or “Ferry Boat” (because Jeffrey is like Je-Ferry, and a ferry is a boat. Yes, we were clever kids).

Whenever we had all four of us, we’d play Signal. Those were some intense times. The teams would vary, though generally it would be one kid paired with one grown-up. Competition was heated. The winners got bragging rights for the duration of the day, while the losers wallowed in self-pity. Good times.

But we got older, and video games were introduced into the equation.

At first video games fostered the same sort of family fun and togetherness that board games and card games had. We’d take turns playing Super Mario Bros. on my Game Boy. Damn level 8-2. Me, my aunt, and Jeff all tried in vain to beat level 8-2 countless times. Finally, one day, Jeff made it through. He was hailed as a hero for weeks afterward. I think that’s what I remember him most for, actually. The guy who finally beat 8-2.

But time went on, and video games slowly replaced board games and card games in my heart. Family Game Night died out, as did the games of Signal and Stealing War. I was too busy becoming a Pokemon master.

Don’t get me wrong here: I love video games. I’ve poured thousands of hours of my life into video games. I remember how happy I was when I finally captured all 150 Pokemon in Blue version. Tauros had eluded me for so long, and when I finally got hold of that son of a bitch, I erupted with joy. And I did it all legitimately, too. None of that gameshark crap. I became legendary on the playground after word of my exploits spread. Sure, Zack may have had 149 for a close second place, but he didn’t have a Flareon.

And period two spare, which constituted some of the greatest hours of my life, wouldn’t have been what it was without video games. More than anything else, period two spare was about the heated rivalry between Yoshi, Captain Falcon, and Ness. Occasionally Mario, Pikachu, and Jigglypuff would join the fray as well. Some days Yoshi would come out on top, some days Ness would, and some days Captain Falcon would. Whenever Captain Falcon added a new technique to his arsenal, Yoshi and Ness would scramble to find a way to counter this technique, lest they be destroyed.

So, have video games been responsible for some very good times? Absolutely. I just can’t help but feel that I lost a piece of myself when I added video games to my life.

Video games themselves aren’t really the problem. It’s how impersonal video games have become over the years. Back when I was younger, if you wanted to play a video game with someone, they had to be in the same room as you. But technology has done some amazing things. It’s now possible to play a video game with a complete stranger halfway around the world.

But that experience pales in comparison to getting your family together and playing a game of Monopoly, or grabbing a few friends and playing some Crazy Eights.

In case you’re not aware, online gaming is considered the greatest thing since sliced bread, so what I just said is sacrilege. But it’s true. Everything is better in person. Phone calls are nice, but actually being with someone is better. Sending a text message is nice, but seeing someone is better. A hugging emoticon  is cool, but a real hug is better. In the same way, kicking someone’s ass in a game – be it Monopoly, Crazy Eights, or Halo 3 – via Internet is cool, but the experience is so much better when your opponent is right beside you. Trust me on this one. I was part of period two spare, after all.

I very rarely play card games or board games now. But when I have, they’ve been good times.

I remember playing cards with John, Valentino, and their cousins/siblings back in Cuba. We played Trece, and Chancho (which I kept pronouncing as “Chowcho”), and the game that was very similar to Stealing War. And I had a lot of fun then.

And I remember staying up until two in the morning at a friend’s house playing Monopoly with him and his family. And despite playing for 4 straight hours, we still weren’t nearly done the game. It was a lot of fun.

And I remember being on the bus on the way back from Tennessee, where I had stayed for a week for the Destination Imagination finals. I have no idea what time it was. We had been driving all night, and the sun was just rising. And then someone started a game of Presidents. I fared pretty well given that it was my first time playing. That was a lot of fun, and a great way to end that roller-coaster of a trip.*

This isn’t my typical blog. Normally I go about criticizing people for things that I don’t do. I cut up smokers, drinkers, feminists, and the like. This time I have a blog that’s aimed squarely at myself. Video games have brought me and many others countless hours of joy and entertainment, but at a price. More time spent playing video games means less time spent doing family activities, and less social time with friends.

Would I go back to the old days, given the choice? Honestly?

No, I wouldn’t.

But I wish that I could visit more often.

 

 

*Side note: I’m not sure why I never wrote a blog about that trip. Tennessee featured some really great times (e.g. the team from Wisconsin asking for our autographs, theCalifornian team staring in awe at our creations, that woman saying “You will be remembered for a long time by many people.”), and some not-so-great times as well (e.g. working like hell to finish our project on time, getting screwed over by the judges). All in all though, it was a great trip. It almost made the absolute hell that Destination Imagination put me through worth it in the end. Almost.

 

Like A Book

My family and friends are very perceptive people.

On this blog, you’ve seen me be fairly negative towards Queen’s University (or at least to the people here). Anyone who reads this blog knows what I’m thinking.

In real life, I haven’t been nearly as overt. As far as I can remember, I’ve never explicitly trashed Queen’s orally, and rarely have I implicitly trashed it.

And yet my friends and family seem to know that I’m not altogether happy here.

Whenever I go home, my parents will ask me how Queen’s is, and I’ll say "fine". And then they’ll ask me if I regret my decision, and I’ll say "no". Why would they ask that? I’ve been using "fine" as my answer to the question "How was school?" for over a decade, and they never questioned it before.

And I’ve had a friend come up and tell me "You know why you don’t like it here? You don’t get drunk enough." I don’t think that I’ve ever had a conversation about Queen’s with this friend, and yet he’s able to tell that I’m not happy.

There are two possibilities here. Either:

1. I’m just being paranoid. They’re not actually accusing me of being unhappy. I’m just interpreting it that way.

2. Through my words, actions, or body language, I’m giving some unintentional hints about my disposition towards Queen’s.

And I’m inclined to believe option two. Partly because no one likes to describe themselves as paranoid, and partly because I think that it’s the more likely of the two options.

What kind of hints have I been dropping then?

Going home as often as I do is probably one. As much as my family loves to see me, I think it concerns them that I seem to come home more often than any of their friends’ sons or daughters.

And I seem to talk about high school a lot. I generally prefer talking about good times to talking about bad times, and I had a lot of good times in high school. I guess when you keep talking about how great the past was, people assume (correctly) that you’re not enjoying the present as much.

I don’t want to give my friends and family too much credit. While I haven’t been obvious, it’s not like I’ve put a concerted effort into hiding my feelings either.

Still, it’s good that they’re able to pick up on these things.

Or maybe not so good, since I have to deal with a lot of awkward questions this way.

Whatever, it’ll get a lot better in 10 days anyhow.

…What’s with the countdown thing, Mike? Why have you been counting down to Christmas Eve?

Unfortunately, I can’t disclose that information just yet. As much as I enjoy being mysterious and all, I’m not doing it for kicks. There are practical reasons why I have to be somewhat covert here.

I will say this much though: The period from the December 15th through to December 18th is a fairly significant one in my life. I write an exam on the 15th, and another one on the 18th, but between those two exams I’ll be stopping in Toronto for a two day period.

Why am I going home in between exams? There are two reasons for this. The first is that I have a high school reunion dinner on the 17th. If you’ve been paying any attention at all to this blog over the last two years, and especially the last two months, I don’t think I need to explain why I’m looking forward to reuniting with my old friends.

The second reason is that I have to meet with someone briefly on the 16th to discuss a few issues. That’s all I can say on the subject for now. Assuming that the meeting goes well (and I’m pretty sure that it will), I’ll make everything plain on Christmas Eve. Until then, I have to be tight-lipped. Sorry.

Smell the Roses!

People shouldn’t let exams bother them so much. I try to stress about them as little as possible. Let’s just look at my day so far, shall we?

I woke up today at 9:30. Deciding that I was still tired, I went back to sleep for another hour. At 10:30 I woke up again, got out of bed, and got dressed. Realizing that I was out of milk and cereal, I set out for the local grocery store to buy some.

As I left my residence building, I noticed snow on the ground, and a beautiful blue sky above, so rather than take the direct 20-minute walk to the grocery store, I took the 40 minute roundabout path that follows along the lake.

On the way to the grocery store, I passed by Indigo, so I went inside. I noticed that they had one of the three remaining Calvin and Hobbes books that I need to complete my collection, so I bought it. Then I went to the grocery store, bought milk and cereal, and headed back to the residence.

By the time I returned, it was 12:15. I poured myself a bowl of cereal and ate. Then I washed the bowl and brushed my teeth.

I surfed the web for a bit, and then closed my computer at around 1:15 and opened up the Calvin and Hobbes book. I put the book down at 4:30 to go eat, and then picked it up again at 4:50. I finished it at 5:15 and opened up my computer again and started typing this blog. By the time I finish this blog and hit the "publish" button, it will probably be close to 6:00. I’ll then look over what I’ve written and fix any spelling/grammar errors that I find (though in all likelihood I’ll miss something). That will take us up to 6:15 or so. I have to leave for fencing at 6:30, and I probably won’t bother doing anything productive in those fifteen minutes.

It’s a twenty minute walk over to the fencing gym, and the lesson itself starts at 7:00 and runs until about 8:30. Then it’s a twenty minute walk back, so I’ll be back in my residence just before 9:00.

Then, and only then, will I study for the three exams that I have this week.

And yet despite the fact that I will have wasted nearly 12 hours of potential study time today, I’m not concerned.

The studying will get done. I’m way too good a student to study inadequately for an exam.

But I want to enjoy my exam period as well. I want to relax.

And that’s the thing about being a university student. Yes, there’s work. Yes, there’s a lot of work. But there’s never so much work that you can’t take an hour or five to just enjoy yourself. To take a walk, to read a book, to post a blog, to watch some T.V., or whatever else you enjoy.

The past few weeks have been rough on pretty much everyone at every university everywhere. The last week of November and the first week of December are when professors all decide to make essays due, so everyone has been running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to get things done. Facebook "fml" statuses reached new heights.

But why? There’s 24 hours in a day. The average essay is somewhere in between 1500 and 2000 words. People’s rates of writing vary from day to day and from subject to subject. Personally, I can pump out anywhere from 250-500 words per hour, unless I’m hit with some terrible case of writer’s block. Taking the minimum rate of writing and the maximum essay length of 2000 words, the base amount of time for writing an essay is 8 hours. Adding in three hours of research time, and two hours for editing and referencing, we’ve got 13 hours of work in order to produce a 2,000 word essay. Let’s double that in order to account for multiple essays due at roughly the same time. That’s 26 hours of work in total.

26 hours of work. That’s it. Even if you were to give yourself only four days to write both essays, you’re only devoting 26 out of 96 hours to essay work – under 30% of your time. Averaging it out, you’re devoting 6.5 hours per day towards your essay. Even if you’re a really heavy sleeper and sleep for eleven hours every day, you’re still only devoting half of your waking hours to essay writing. You still have another 6.5 hours to waste on eating, drinking, smoking a fine Cuban cigar, visiting the Kingston Penitentiary, or whatever else tickles your fancy.

Life gets pretty rough, but it never gets so rough that you can’t stop to enjoy it for a little while. There’s no need to get stressed out.

(It’s now 6:15 exactly, and this blog is 835 words. 835 an hour. Guess it’s a fast day today).

"You know what’s funny?" asked Sammy.

She and the boy were sitting by the fireplace in Sammy’s living room, sipping away at hot chocolate.

"What?" asked the boy.

"We’ve known each other for what? Almost four months now? I still don’t know your name."

The boy gave her a blank stare. "Yeah, so?"

"Don’t you think I should at least know your name if we’re going to be friends?"

"I don’t know your name either," replied the boy, dodging the question.

"Sammy," the girl said. "My name is Sammy."

"I didn’t ask," said the boy with a smirk. "You’re a very open person, aren’t you?"

Sammy blushed. She usually wasn’t. This boy just had a way of making her speak. "Yeah, well…" She trailed off, expecting him to give her his name in return.

"I’m not as open." said the boy after a moment.

"Are you kidding?" said Sammy, a little frustrated. "It’s just your name. I don’t see the issue."

"Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?" asked the boy. A complete non sequitur. This boy was an enigma and a half.

"Um… Not really," said Sammy, caught somewhat off guard with this random question. "What about you?"

 "That’s good," he said, again evading her question. "New Year’s resolutions are dumb."

"What’s wrong with them?" asked Sammy.

"One thing in particular." said the boy. "Why is it limited to one arbitrary day of the year? If people see some sort of fault within themselves, why do they wait until New Year’s Day to correct it? Why not make a Labour Day resolution, or a Victoria Day resolution, or a March 24th resolution? If you’re eating too much cake, why wait until New Year’s to say "I’m going to eat less cake and instead devote cake-eating time to going to the gym."? It’s stupid."

"I guess that makes sense," said Sammy, "but I think that people are constantly trying to improve themselves. They just usually don’t announce it to the world."

"You have opinions," said the boy. "I like that."

"Thank you," said Sammy. A rare complement from the boy. Normally he just tore her opinions to shreds.

"The question is, can you back them up? Tell me, what have you resolved to improve about yourself over the last few weeks?"

Again, the boy had caught her off guard. But she recovered quickly: "I have resolved… to learn the names of every person I meet. Now tell me yours."

"You’re persistent," said the boy. "I like that too."

The girl smiled triumphantly. She had beaten the boy at his own game!

 Or had she? For at that moment the boy stood up and put on his coat. "Unfortunately," he said. "I’m persistent too. Thanks for the hot chocolate."

And he quickly walked out of her house.

*****

I honestly was planning to reveal the boy’s name in this one. Right up until I got to five lines from the end, I was going to end it with him telling her his name. But then I decided not to. Oh well.

Five bucks if you can guess his name before he tells her. It’s not Rumpelstiltskin.