Archive for July, 2012


Power

I remember the first time I made someone cry.

It was more than four years ago now. The spring of 2008.

Well, technically that’s not the first time I made someone cry. There was that time I pulled that girl’s hair, and the time I threw sand into that guy’s eyes, but those were different. I’m talking about inflicting emotional pain on someone to the point where they cry.

The instance in question happened during one of the late night telephone conversations that I frequently found myself party to in those days. In all honesty, I don’t remember much of what was said before she started crying. We weren’t fighting. Our voices weren’t raised – it was 2 AM after all. All I remember is at some point, she broke down and started to cry because of something I said.

As I comforted her, I felt disgusted with myself. I felt like a lowly, sick human being. And I also felt this sense of power. And then I felt even sicker for feeling powerful while someone was crying on the other end of the phone line.

I don’t think about those days much anymore. But I think about that feeling from time to time. I mean, here was someone who I cared very deeply about, and who I had just made cry. And while most of my attention was focused on trying to cheer her up, a small part of me was smiling. Does that make me a bad person? Or does it make me just like everyone else? In either case, the implications aren’t good.

Maybe it was just a natural emotion to have. This person had pulled my strings for the better part of four years and had exercised a good deal of control over my emotions. Maybe it just felt good to turn the tables.

 

Since then though, I haven’t had that kind of power over anyone. As far as I’m aware, that was the only time I’ve ever made someone else cry. I don’t seem to be able to faze people much emotionally. Even if I wanted to hurt someone, I don’t think I could. Just looking down my Facebook list, I see a small handful of people that deserve a verbal lashing for something they’ve done recently. And if called upon, I don’t think I could elicit anything in response besides a blank stare. Is that a good thing, or does it make me weak? I don’t know.

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School Abroad

It’s about 2:30 AM local time here in Toronto, and due to the monsoon presently occurring outside, I can’t sleep. I figured I’d come online and mash some words into my keyboard for a bit in the hopes that I might bore myself into unconsciousness.

But uh… I don’t really have anything to write about at the moment. Give me a sec.

***

Okay, I’ve got it.

In just ten days I’ll be embarking on a journey to Oxford for my second attempt at school away from home. And we all remember how the first attempt went.

There are a few key differences between the last time and this time, however. The first, and most important difference is the time I’ll be away. Whereas my adventure to Queen’s was scheduled to last four years, this one will only last for the duration of August. The other key difference is the distance I’ll be from home. Kingston put me a mere 250 kilometres from home, but this time I’ll be venturing across the Atlantic, over 5,000 kilometres away.

Just to be clear, I’m not nervous about this at all or anything. In fact, I wouldn’t even be making the comparison to Queen’s if it wasn’t so late at night.

I think it’ll be a good test for me though. Even though a month isn’t really that long, bear in mind that it’ll be longer than I’ve ever spent away from my family before. Queen’s proved too difficult for me to handle, but the reality is that I was never away from home for more than three weeks at a time. My time at Queen’s left me with doubts as to whether or not I’m the type of person who can survive without his family being nearby, and in the two years since I left, I’ve done  nothing to resolve those doubts. By no means will a month away from home leave me feeling confident about my ability to leave Woodbridge behind someday, but hey. Baby steps, right?

It’s true that it only took Queen’s about four weeks to get me to start filling out the transfer forms, but that figure is a bit misleading. It wasn’t the first month at Queen’s that made me leave. It wasn’t even the first year. It was the prospect of having to face three more years after the first one. That’s what broke my spirits. Had Queen’s been a one year program right from the start, I think I would have been fine. I might have even enjoyed it. I don’t have any evidence to back that claim up. It’s just a gut feeling. And that same gut feeling is telling me that Oxford is nothing to be worried about at all.

Two in one day. You’re getting a real treat today, folks.

For those of you with incredible memories, I’ve been writing here for just seven years now. And in those seven years I’ve touched upon a lot of subjects. I’ve spoken about everything from growing up, to preparing for prom, to the importance of friendly waves, to unrequited love, to pure, unadulterated joy, to great books that you should read immediately if you haven’t already, to hands-free soap dispensers, to the very meaning of life itself.

But there are three subjects which I’ve avoided as much as possible: Politics, religion, and women.

 

Ostensibly, the reason I don’t discuss politics is to avoid offending people. Given who my audience is, this really isn’t a concern. I think the real reason I don’t discuss politics is that the majority of people find it boring. For example, I strongly believe that the Westminster system is outdated and places far too much power in the executive branch, and that Canada should look to model its political system on Germany’s, including adopting a Mixed Member Proportional Representation electoral system.

But I tend not to talk about such things, because although I find this stuff interesting, not many people do.

To be fair though, when a political issue comes up that grabs the attention of the masses, I often comment on it here.

 

Religion is a subject that I’ve avoided almost entirely. And the reason for this is that I’ve always viewed religion as a highly personal thing. Not the sort of thing to be discussing on the Internet, even with an audience of three. I believe that everyone ought to have the freedom to believe whatever they want, so long as those views don’t prevent anyone else from believing whatever they want. Occasionally on Facebook you’ll see someone (and it’s often an atheist) triumphantly post the words SO TRUE, along with a link to a quote from someone which calls the other side stupid. That sort of thing annoys me to no end. Having a religion isn’t stupid. Nor is having an unusual religion. Nor is not having a religion at all.  It’s not a competition over who is right and who is wrong. It’s a shame that some people feel like it is. So that’s why I avoid discussing religion.

 

But women? They’re not controversial, nor offensive. Well, not usually, at least.

Really, the only reason I haven’t discussed women here is habit. You have to remember that this blog was created when I was fourteen years old. Back then, girls were a Really Big Deal. And for the first four years I was involved in a secret unrequited love thing, and several of my readers were people who could not find out about this Under Any Circumstances Whatsoever. And then for the two years after that there were no women to talk about, period.

But for the last year I’ve been involved in a long-distance with a fine young woman from Wales named Jessie. And aside for some brief references, I haven’t mentioned it at all. And I think that’s a bit weird.

I mean, a long-distance relationship is a crazy beast. I could have written a ton of blogs on my experiences and opinions. But I haven’t. Part of it is because I know she’s reading, and I don’t like discussing personal business on the Internet unless it’s my business alone. But part of it is just plain old habit.

Maybe relationships in general are something I’ll speak about more here going forward. We shall see.

Well, barring anything going pear-shaped at the eleventh hour (which is always a possibility), my courses for next year are pretty much set. What’s on the menu?

In the fall, we’ve got:

Modern Political Thought, a course about my old friends Kant, Rosseau, Mill, Burke, Nietzsche, amongst others. I’d wanted to take it last year, but I couldn’t, as it was full.

Holocaust History, a course which I’ve wanted to take since I started at U of T. The professor is supposed to be incredible, and the material itself is in equal parts fascinating and horrifying. Really looking forward to this one.

The Sun and its Neigbours, which is an astronomy course for folks with no mathematical background. I’m using it to fulfill the degree requirement that I take a science course.

Electoral Behaviour, Parties and Party Systems in Federal Countries. All politics students are required to do one very difficult seminar course in order to graduate. It’s going to be a lot of work, but at least the course is on the subject which I think is the most interesting within the field of politics.

In the winter, Modern Political Thought and Holocaust History will continue. Replacing the other two courses are History of Israel and Palestine, and History of Hong Kong, both courses which I’m using to fulfill the requirement that I study some history from parts of the world other than North America and Europe.

That leaves me with four courses in each semester. A full course load has five, however, and thus I have the option to take an elective course which wouldn’t count towards my degree or GPA. Having been presented with this option, I decided to look through the language selections offered by U of T, and group them into five categories. Those which are not being offered this year, those which conflict with my schedule, those which occur at inconvenient times, those which fit my schedule, and those which fit my schedule perfectly. Here’s what I came up with:

NOT OFFERED CONFLICT INCONVENIENT FITS PERFECT FIT
Estonian Inuktitut Anishinaabemowin Iroquoian Korean
Czech Ancient Greek Latin Mandarin Japanese
Ukrainian Polish Finnish Aramaic Croatian
Coptic Hungarian Russian Irish Hebrew
Akkadian Arabic Macadonian Welsh Turkish
Persian Coptic German
Gaelic Ancient Egyptian
Swahili
Portugese

Wow. It worked! Let me tell you, I couldn’t do that on the old site.

If I had to give you a list of five languages that I really want to learn, they’d be German, Russian, Japanese, Mandarin, and Czech. This makes Japanese the obvious choice. The catch is that spots in the introductory Japanese course are reserved for East Asian Studies students (i.e., not me) until the 16th of August. For the moment, I have to choose a backup course in case I’m unable to get into Japanese when August rolls around.

Of the courses that fit my schedule well or very well, I’m most interested in Mandarin. Unfortunately, those who want to take Mandarin have to go through an interview in September. The problem isn’t the interview itself, but the timing. The interview doesn’t take place until September, well after I’ll know whether or not I’m into Japanese. That makes it useless as a backup plan.

The next two courses I’d be interested in would be Welsh and Turkish. Admittedly, these are two languages which I had no interest in studying two years ago. Since then I’ve become close with people from both Wales and Turkey, and as a result my interest in the culture and languages of these two nations has grown quite a bit. Between the two of them, it’s tough to decide. Turkish is obviously the more widely spoken of the two and would be more practical, but I like the way Welsh sounds more than Turkish. I haven’t made a pick yet. I need a class that still has spaces open at the end of August, so I’m keeping a close eye on registration. Turkish still has 15 out of 30 spots open. Welsh has 21 out of 25. So, we shall see. Hopefully I get into Japanese, but I think I’ll enjoy either of these languages if it comes to that.

 

Those be my final undergraduate courses. It’s going to be a tough year, but this year for once I don’t have any courses that I really don’t want to take, so that’s a positive at least.

Jack Of All Trades

“Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Originally, this phrase omitted those last three words, and it was considered a compliment to be described as a “jack of all trades”.

Then some cynic, consumed with envy, decided to add on those last three words. Today if you call someone a jack of all trades, you’re implying some sort of weakness in them.

Personally, I don’t understand why the phrase has come to be seen negatively though. Is it so terrible to be moderately good at everything? Is it that bad to have such a wide range of competancy? Is it a death sentence not to be incredible at any single thing?

I’m not saying that specializing in a particular field is a bad thing – in fact, I think it’s great. But being a generalist is equally great in my opinion.

The reason I’m saying this is that it’s that time to select courses once again. This year is a little bit different than previous years though. In previous years, if I saw a course that was interesting but didn’t fit my schedule, I could shrug and say “Oh well. Next year.”

But this time there is no next year. It’s my fourth and final year of undergrad, and any classes I don’t take now will pass into the Eternal Well of Missed Opportunities.

It’s a shame because there’s so much more that I want to learn. If time was infinite, I would start by devouring introductory courses by the truckload. Introductory biology, chemistry,(not physics – I’m not crazy) sociology, ecology, anthropology, astronomy, geology, geography, classics, latin, linguistics, pharmacology, even.

Within these fields, there are so many interesting courses I’d love to take if I could. Courses on the development of human languages. Courses on how sex was viewed in ancient Rome. Courses on how various species have adapted or disappeared over time.

There’s a course on the psychology of aging. There’s a 1960s music course. There’s a course specifically on the concept of religious pilgrimages, and one on the sacred texts which are so vital to each religion. One on the history of sexual health. One about dreams, and how society views them. One on how new drugs are discovered.

And then there’s the languages. If I had time I’d learn every single one offered by the university. From the widely spoken ones like Mandarin, Russian, German, Portuguese, and Arabic, to less prominent ones like Czech, Finnish, Estonian, and Swahili, to the seriously obscure, like Gaelic and Welsh. If I could, I’d learn a little bit of all of them. The fact that I’m going to have to leave so many beautiful languages unexplored is probably the saddest thing for me.

I’ve been a student all my life. Learning is the only thing I’ve ever done thus far. Despite this, there are still a lot of subject areas that I know nothing about. When I ask people questions about what they’re studying, it’s not to make polite conversation. It’s because I’m genuinely interested in the subject matter, and want to learn more about it in order to expand my own realm of knowledge. Surely there’s nothing wrong with that.

Whether you fancy yourself a jack of all trades or a master of one, the pursuit of knowledge is never something to be viewed negatively.