Back to School

In the past week or so I’ve noticed a sudden influx of “back to school” commercials on TV. Stores remind us that we need to buy new clothes, shoes, notebooks, pencils, backpacks, etc. RIGHT AWAY BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE! Every time one of these ads plays, I start to make a mental shopping list of what I need to go back to school this year (coffee, extra hours of sleep, a stress ball) but then I catch myself. For the first time in nearly two decades, the “back to school” season doesn’t matter to me.

Whenever I think about the fact that from now on the end of August will be like the end of every other month, I’m overcome with a crazy quilt of emotions. First I think “haha kids, you have to get up early and ride the school bus and learn calculus.” Then I feel uneasy; I don’t know how to not be in school. It’s what I’ve been doing since I can remember! What’s life like when you don’t have to learn things and then spit them back to the teacher in various forms? It will be so weird to actually be done with my work when I leave the workplace instead of home being the main place and “free time” being the main time for working. Finally, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Leaving school and entering the “real world” is the ultimate sign of adulthood. Even though I can’t work until probably October at the latest, I’ve moved into the stage of life where you stop learning how to contribute to society and actually do it.

On my graduation day I felt a pang of sadness about not learning anymore. I love learning new things, which is probably the main reason I subjected myself to six years of university. Lucky for me, I can research practically anything I could ever want to learn on the internet, at the public library, or at one of the museum or university libraries nearby. Or I can just ask my boyfriend, the walking encyclopedia 😉 So cheesy conclusion of the day: even though I’m not actually going back to school this September, I’ve entered the school of life. Ahhhhh!

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Sweet

Considering how little I post here, one might wonder why I even bother ever coming back to it. The reason is that I can’t walk more than 5 minutes by myself without writing. Without conversation to hold my interest, my brain defaults to picking up sensory details, shaping them into pretty-sounding sentences, and often thrusting them into a fictional universe. This is what happened on a beer run (walk?) late last week.

Though I’ve spent a lot of time in Ottawa visiting my boyfriend, moving here has caused feelings of calm and tenderness to trickle into my heart little by little every day. It’s also allowed me to put my feet on autopilot when I run errands and really take in the details of my neighborhood.

On one of the sunniest spring days so far I shuffled my bright purple Toms out to get booze, more an excuse to get fresh air and go beyond the space of our apartment than anything. Upon reaching the outside, my senses were accosted with May data: brightly-colored flowers, cozy warm air that sat between the last gusts of winter chill, high school dudes shouting trash talk while playing soccer in the park after school. But the melting pot of aromas hit me the hardest, though it’s hard to say whether my canine sense of smell or the heat was to blame.

Each house, each block, emitted its own scent. The closer I got to the store, the more I realized that they all, despite being good or bad, natural or man-made, they were all kind of sweet. Not sweet like a lollipop or pineapple but still sweet at a basic level. I passed

  • the bright fruitiness of fresh cut grass
  • the young green dustiness of new lumber on a set of porch steps
  • the manufactured perfume-y pleasantness of floral laundry soap
  • the harsh comfort of cigarette smoke curling from a stoop
  • the sick, vaguely familiar pungency of garbage
  • the rusty, sugary, despair of old alcohol bottles
  • the intoxicating, instant-headache-inducing delight of flower gardens

Maybe I’m reaching to find cohesion in the chaos of street smells, but maybe that’s what art is all about.

Home(s)

After spending reading week with my dashing boyfriend, it was time to leave Ottawa again. I grabbed a cab to the bus station and started to make small talk with the driver, telling him I was headed back to Toronto. As I settled into my seat, the kind old cabbie asked me a seemingly easy question: “Is Toronto home for you?”

I hesitated a moment before answering “Yes.”

In ways this answer was both true and false. For lots of reasons, Toronto does feel like home to me. After living here for a year and a half, I know my way around, I feel comfortable on the streets, I have favourite spots to go to eat and drink and read and people-watch. But at the same time, I have other places that I feel I can call “home” too.

Obviously the town where I was born and raised is my ultimate “home.” It’s the place I know I can always go back to and see familiar and loving faces, the place where I’ve made the majority of my life’s memories up to now, the place I can picture most easily in my mind’s eye with the stunning clarity only developed over many years.

And now there’s Ottawa. If you would’ve told me a year ago that I’d be moving there, I’d have given you a sharply-angled eyebrow of disbelief. Fortunately for me, I get to move to the gorgeous capital city with the love of my life. It’s my newest home. It’s the place where I’ve built my love, built my new Canadian identity, and will (hopefully) build my career.2015-01-16 13.13.28

When I was planning where to go to college when I was 16, I thought I wanted to stay close to “home” forever. Little did I know that I could do that no matter how far I travelled.

Selma

I’m not really one to write reviews of things nor did I ever think that’s what I’d use this blog for. But alas, my life is frankly not very exciting right now (just schooling it up mostly) and after seeing Selma in theatres I feel really inclined to write about it. I’m not going to talk about the acting, or the cinematography, or whatever else people who eagerly await the Oscars actually want to hear about. I was most impressed by the tone and approach to the topic.

Firstly, this film spent its entire 2 hours focused on one small moment in the Civil Rights movement, which I appreciate. Too often films on this part of history try to cram a huge amount of time and struggle into those 2 hours and it comes out feeling glossed-over and simplistic. More importantly, it focused on an issue that I don’t think a lot of people realize was a big part of the movement. In the mid-60s, integration and fair hiring practices had already been made into law, but many registrars, especially those in the South, continued to use unfair and illegal practices to avoid registering black voters. In this movie, we witness the lovely Oprah being denied registration multiple times for reasons including illiteracy, not having a registered voter who can vouch for her, and not being able to answer ridiculous questions (i.e. “name all the county judges in Alabama). Until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, loopholes in the law sent black people in circles, making it nearly impossible for them to vote and, subsequently, get their voices heard in the government, despite the 15th Amendment.

More importantly, the tone of this movie was not hokey in its demonstration of black people’s strength and determination in their fight. I only remember one spiritual in the entire film, and it was background music to a scene, not sung by characters. It showed the tension between the peaceful protesters who backed Dr. King and the more radical, Malcom X followers. It showed that many people were so angry about their treatment by white people (rightfully so) that they questioned the validity of nonviolence. It showed members of the movement, from leaders to last-minute joiners, wanting to give up when nothing was changing despite their efforts.

A lot of tv shows/movies/books about the Civil Rights movement portray these activists as always feeling strong and positive when there’s not way that is accurate. No human being who has been mistreated their entire life and sees no change when they try to stand up for themselves could keep an eternally positive outlook. You can only be torn down so many times before you want to quit. This perspective outlined the complexity of of the movement and humanized the activists. In the same way, it showed that activist movements are just ideas that are run by human beings who have emotions and make mistakes, and that the two should not be confused.

I end this post with a word of warning, and not just because I’m trying to save my own butt. Please don’t read this review as a privileged white girl trying to speak for African Americans who lived two generations for her time. I simply saw a moving, well-made film that complemented an influential part of my academic scholarship and that can teach all kinds of audiences a thing or two about putting historical figures and social activists on a pedestal.

Too Much Living, Not Enough Reflecting

I’ve forgotten about blogging. In fact, I’ve forgotten about writing altogether. Although the last time I posted was only a day before I met my lovely boyfriend, he is only a tiny part of the reason I haven’t sat down to write in months. It sounds like such a lame excuse, but life really did get in the way.

First, I finished my second semester of grad school, which means I’m now half a master (woo!). After a very chill month of recovery, I started my 12-week internship, which had me busy during weekdays and on nights and weekends I explored what summertime in Toronto and Ottawa had to offer. Here’s a list of things I’ve seen and done this summer (there might be more, but this is coming off the top of my head, give me a break):

  • Toronto Zoo
  • Ripley’s Aquarium (Toronto)
  • Blue Jays vs. Red Sox game
  • St. Lawrence Market
  • ROM
  • Ontario Science Centre
  • World Pride activities
  • Lady Gaga at Bluesfest (!!!)
  • National Gallery of Canada
  • Canadian Museum of Nature

In addition to all those, I also took a quick trip to NYC with the bf and visited home for almost 2 weeks. Busy busy busy.

But now, as I start back to school and feel that razor-sharp edge of cold on the wind as it whips through the buildings, I feel compelled to write again. Maybe the reason I didn’t write this summer was the fact that I had other, “better” things to do. Maybe it was the beautiful weather that made me feel I was committing some kind of blasphemy if I dared sit inside at a desk rather than enjoy the sunshine outdoors. Maybe I felt like nothing I did warranted a good, long post.

Whatever the reason for my temporary absence, I woke up today writing. Any writer knows what I mean when I say this. I woke up with phrases and sentences floating through my brain before I’d even cut through my sleep-fog. I realized that I miss words. Sure, I say and think a lot of them every day, but they’re all so functional. For months I’ve deprived myself of thinking and writing in words that exist for the sheer beauty of their sounds. I want slant rhymes, alliteration, metaphors, hyperbole!

Though it’s hard to say how much “real” writing I’ll do in the next month or year, even composing this super-meta post has made me feel a lot better. Words are cool, and that’s my last word.

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me

This past Sunday was one of the highlights not only of my time in Toronto, but of my entire life. As many of you know, I had the privilege of seeing one of my life-long musical idols, Billy Joel, live in concert! I’ve listened to his music since birth and I can’t believe that I have now heard his magical voice in person! Even better was that though I couldn’t go with my family, who force-fed me this music, my lovely Toronto bff offered to go with me so I wouldn’t have to be alone.

The first thing that amazed me about this concert is how close it was to my house (about 20 minutes’ walk). When you’re from the middle of nowhere and the closest major venue is a 45-minute drive away, that close vicinity seems like some kind of wonderful witchcraft. We weren’t entirely sure how to get there, but figured we were headed in the right direction when we came upon droves of middle-aged couples all hurrying in the same direction, computer-paper tickets in hand. After some confusion finding our seats, we killed some time by taking selfies and photos of the huge arena, including an American flag (which we assumed they had hung up because Billy Joel is American?). Though no opening act was listed on the website nor on the ticket, when the lights went out at 8 pm, it was not the Piano Man, but a younger blond guy who started singing. For the next 40 minutes, we were graced with the soulful pop-rock stylings of Jon McLaughlin and his band. E fell hard for both his dashing good looks and his silky voice, but I was too distracted by anticipation.

Finally, around 9, the man himself took the stage. It took all my self-restraint not to hyperventilate when he sat down behind his piano (rigged with a harmonica for “Piano Man”). Joel had arranged his set from least to most recognizable songs, so after a few deep cuts (like “Pressure” and “Vienna”) he delved into fan-favorites (like “New York State of Mind” and “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”). He ended the concert with a 5-song encore of his most recognizable hits, including “You May Be Right” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Even though he’s 65, he kept up the energy for 2 straight hours and played very few of his slower songs. I was ecstatic that one of them that he chose to play was “And So It Goes,” one of my favourite songs by him in general and probably my absolute favourite of his slow jams. When he followed this song with “Allentown,” a song about a town in PA, I felt like the set list had been written just for me (such lame. so cheese.). By the end of the concert, thanks to Joel’s feisty spirit and likely some beers, the arena was full of tipsy 40-somethings who were singing and dancing in their seats. I’ll admit I gave in to the magic and shimmied along to “Uptown Girl,” despite my hipster stance on the tune.

While the music part of the concert was obviously stellar, Billy Joel proved that he is funny as well as vocally talented. He kept up banter with the audience between each song. Some of my favourite moments:

  • It was one of his band members’ birthdays and upon learning the guy was only 43, Joel proclaimed, “You’re a zygote!”
  • After finishing singing “She’s Always a Woman,” he said, “And then we got divorced.”
  • Many jabs at his age, including claiming he was “Billy Joel’s dad” and saying sarcastically “Some people retire at 65, but nooooo!”
  • During “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” the first encore song, he messed up the lyrics. He full-out stopped the band, saying “That ain’t right” and threatened not to finish the song. When the audience groaned, he fought back by saying “That’s one of the worst melodies I ever wrote!” but of course he finished the song anyway.

There were only 2 negatives to the whole night. The first was me living in fear of getting elbowed by the dancing/clapping woman next to me for the entire encore. Second was when we got up to leave, E and I noticed our coats and gloves were wet. It turns out some drunkie kicked their beer or whatever and it spilled onto the floor and, subsequently, onto our outerwear. But these were minor snags in what turned out to be a delightful night!

 

The Winter That Just Won’t Quit

Welcome back! Once again I’ve been a terrible writer in abandoning my blog for nearly 2 months, but that grad school life is busy, yo! No big events have occurred since the beginning of this semester, so this post will serve as another summary of what I’ve been up to in T-Dot.

The semester started off on a bad foot when, because of terrible winter weather, I couldn’t get a plane back into Toronto and missed my first day of classes. After many trips back and forth to the airport and days of waiting, my family and I finally decided that we were done waiting around for Air Canada and with that, I boarded a bus bound for Canada. 16 hours, 3 cities, and a few tears later, I finally arrived back in my second home. The fact that I had to ride buses all day alone was bad enough, but the fact that it was my birthday made the experience a bit more unbearable. Never before have I felt the cheesy, heart-swelling joy that seeing the CN Tower struck in me after that long, physically and emotionally exhausting day.

One of the main highlights of the semester so far was a brief trip to the AGO to see “The Great Upheaval,” an exhibition of pieces from the Guggenheim from around the time of World War I. My entire visit was spent trying desperately to stifle my huge art nerdgasm, but all efforts were in vain when I came across the Picasso wall; upon reading the paintings’ labels, I let out an unintentional little squeak of excitement that (hopefully) nobody heard. My favorite painting in the exhibit is Chagall’s “Paris Through the Window,” a bizarre yet oddly cute piece delves deep into the artist’s feelings of homesickness.Image

Because we still had some time before the museum closed, my friends and I decided to explore as much of the AGO as we could. And as I should have expected, my curiosity got me in trouble in the first gallery we entered. Some of the paintings were really tiny and because of a mix of my near blindness and art nerdiness, I put my face really near to them to see every figure and brushstroke perfectly. While this was okay in the Guggenheim section, where the works were behind glass, this was not the case in the other galleries, as I soon found out the hard way. “Miss, please don’t get so close to the art,” sneered the older man watching over the section we were visiting. I sheepishly apologized and tried to be on my best behavior for the rest of the visit. Whoops!

Valentine’s Day. Singles Awareness Day. Commercial Bullcrap. Whatever you want to call it, my best TO friend and I had big plans for a girls’ night that day and it did not disappoint. We polished off a large Hawaiian pizza and copious amounts of wine while watching a German romantic comedy strangely similar to Tootsie in its plot line. The best part of the whole day was going to the mall and seeing dozens of men running around frantically, flowers and cards in hand, clearly knowing they wouldn’t dare come home without a physical artifact to prove their love to their significant others. Lessons learned from this day: drinking two bottles of wine will make you hang onto a chair to avoid falling over even though you’re sitting down; they make candy hearts that say “goodbye” on them.

The only other noteworthy thing to come out of the last 2 months has been this epically awful weather. I know I shouldn’t complain because Toronto has gotten a sweet deal in terms of snow accumulation compared to much of Canada and the Northern United States, but the cold has been ridiculous! When the wind whips between the buildings, it feels like someone is using an icicle to slash your face open. I never thought I’d consider all temperatures above freezing to be “warm” and cause for celebration! Even life-long Torontonians have commented that this winter has been especially brutal. Spring, come soon!

I suppose that’s all for now. Expect another blog post in approximately 2 weeks when I go to see my long-time musical idol Billy Joel!

The End of Round One

I promise I didn’t die. U of T almost got me, but I survived with my sanity (barely) intact.

But seriously, I can’t believe I haven’t posted since October! So many things have happened since then, so I’m making this a bit of a summary post for the second half of my first semester. Most importantly, I survived 1/4 of my Masters degree at U of T! By the end of the semester, my brain was so fried that I actually thought I was going insane. Between readings and group projects, I definitely had my hands full, but I handed everything in on time and am now (im)patiently waiting to get my final marks. The highlight of my schoolwork was writing a paper on Django Unchained, discussing it in terms of postmodernism and racial representation. Being overly exhausted and technologically-challenged brought my low point: losing about 5 hours’ worth of work on a grant proposal. Tired Ann did not see that the document she had been working with was “read-only” and closed out of it, sending hundreds of minutes’ worth of tedious pleading for fake money for a fake project into the depths of cyberspace.

I’ve also found time to explore more parts of the city, mostly on foot, which turned out to be visually awesome but super rough on my feet. I’m pretty positive they’ll just be two huge calluses by May. But I digress. One of my favorite events of the year was going out to the Halloween block party in Church and Wellesley Village. Though this event took place in the “gaybourhood,” people of all genders and orientations partied together both on the streets and in the clubs. I have honestly never felt such positive energy and fun at an event in my life. Halloween was a night of firsts: my first Stella Artois, my first trip to a gay bar (male), and my first night out at a drinking establishment in Toronto! The high (or low, depending how you look at it) point of the night was my friends and I getting into a tiff with two drunk girls at McDonald’s around 2:30 in the morning, which ended oh-so-classily with me and one of the girls hurling verbal insults at one another. Priceless memories.

My most recent adventure was to the Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District. This neighborhood still has cobblestone streets and the old brick distillery buildings, mostly occupied by shops and art galleries now. Strings of tiny white Christmas lights that looped between the buildings created a magical artificial ceiling of sorts and the huge tree helped me get into the Christmas spirit when my mind was full to overflowing with final assignment jargon. Vendors lined each side of the street selling their German-themed treats and treasures, reminding me of my hometown’s Christkindl Market and deepening the holiday homesick pang in my stomach. Any trace of sadness had dissipated by the end of the trip, though, thanks to three key things:

  1. Seeing a (most likely drunk) man drive a golf cart into the entry way of one of the market’s many makeshift beer gardens. *Bonus: my friends not caring about the man’s well-being but gasping about the fate of the beer
  2. My first poutine! I’d been putting off trying it since I arrived in Canada but I knew tasting this trademark Canadian food was inevitable. The combination of French fries, brown gravy, and cheese curds slopped together in a paper bowl sounds so unappealing, but let me tell you. It is divine. Like, I’m pretty sure God and the angels had a salt craving one day and invented this glourious snack. It was so good that I cast away the small bit of couth that I still kept up for my new friends and let gravy drip down my chin in a moment of pure gastric joy.
  3. My first real schnitzel since I came home from Austria. Veal schnitzel is harder to come by in North America, I’ve found, so when I found out that the Market was featuring this dish, I made sure we didn’t leave until I’d eaten some. The hot, fried, baby cow flesh nestled inside a doughy pretzel roll gave me a straight-up foodgasm that should hold me over for at least another year. Sorry cute little calves; you just taste so darn good.

My first three months in Toronto were a whirlwind. I feel like me, but a version of me that lived only deep inside my head. I have never felt so independent, uninhibited, and ambitious. I think I’ve even turned a bit extroverted (ew!)! The classes I’ve taken, the people I’ve befriended, and the places I’ve visited have helped shape the first leg of this new step in my life and I can’t wait to see what happens in round two!

Les Beaux-Arts

Art. That was the subject of my entire Saturday last week. First, I headed a long-ass way on Queen West to check out the exhibition I had to review for class at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. The round-trip walk and my visit to MOCCA took the same amount of time. Cheap people problems. Anyway, the walk was really eye-opening and enjoyable despite the overcast, chilly weather. Queen is home to lots of clubs, stores, and restaurants filled with colorful people. I never realized how square my neighborhood is until I saw the slew of interesting places and faces down there. After 45 minutes and nearly giving up my search for MOCCA, I finally walked through the doors of this tiny building set back in basically a glorified alleyway. No thanks to the guys at the desk, I found my way into David Cronenberg: Transformation, TIFF show at the MOCCA.

This exhibition consists of 6 pieces that are “inspired by” Cronenberg’s themes of human evolution and progress (supposedly). To 99% of people, including myself, it’s just a lot of weird short films and installations that make you feel panicky and creeped out. The best part of my entire visit was people-watching, which was part of my assignment. A lot of middle-aged white men and 30-something couples walked around but didn’t really seem to want to engage for the whole lengths of the films. I’ll admit, it is hard to sit for 40 minutes and watch something that you totally don’t get. Everyone seemed in their own little world and didn’t even talk; if they communicated at all, it was raising their eyebrows or grimacing to their companion.Image

This scary cow with a chest-vagina basically embodies the mind-eff that happens upon viewing this exhibition.

On my super-long walk back home, I got a special treat: seeing some of the pieces for Nuit Blanche while they were being installed! Granted, one was a pile of picnic tables and another was a dog-sized ferris wheel, but it was the behind-the-scenes aspect that thrilled me. Because I had slept in and spent all afternoon at MOCCA, I totally had no intention of going to Nuit Blanche. None. However, the idea of getting tipsy and walking around the streets of downtown looking at weird sculptures sounded much more appealing than my readings. So, being the classy person I am, I filled a travel coffee mug with beer and headed out into the night.

Keeping track of 5 people in huge crowds is no easy feat, especially when said crowds are gawking at contemporary art installations. Luckily, we only lost somebody once. The worst crowd was in a bottleneck between a clown-themed float and the sidewalk. People with baby buggies + people all up in my business on all sides + Ann almost has a panic attack. Though we walked around for a few hours, we didn’t hit even half of the pieces. What we did see included a giant balloon spider, clotheslines full of drab-colored socks, and a wooden elephant head sticking out of the back of a truck. My favorite, pictured below, was a traditional-looking horse statue with a live video stream of a man sewing projected onto it.nuit_blanche_parade_20131005_16_This_I_Build_For_jpg_2184x1365_q95_up

Saturday Night Live called to us, so despite Nuit Blanche being an all-night affair, most of us turned in early, though I could hear the festivities for hours.

As truly weird as the art was, these adventures are ones I couldn’t have had anywhere else. Every day I fall a little more in love with all the crazy people, places, and experiences in Toronto!

You Belong Here

This post isn’t going to be as event-focused as the others. Instead, I’ve decided to reflect on my first (almost) month in Toronto. Here’s the main point: I feel like I’ve lived here for years. Granted, I haven’t really ridden the TTC a lot yet, but that’s mostly because I’m cheap and the weather’s been pretty agreeable for walking. Sure, I haven’t explored every corner of the city, but I have seen and done a lot in a few short weeks . All this, without what I’d thought was an inevitable period of awkward adjustment to my new environment.

Every time that I do or say or even understand a reference to something Torontonian, I feel all giddy and proud. For instance, on my way to my TIFF premiere, I saw an older couple emerge from a subway station looking very lost, turning around in circles and squinting at buildings. Even though I was in a major hurry, I felt like being a good Samaritan and asked if they needed directions. Initially, they asked the direction of a street, which stumped me because, as everyone knows, I locate myself by landmarks, not by maps. Naturally, I then asked what they were trying to find (the Hilton) and to the delight of us all, I actually knew not only what direction to point them in, but about how far they needed to go! Life’s little victories.

I’ve learned a lot of other useful tips since I moved to Toronto, some by experience, some by hearsay. Here’s some of them:

  • Don’t walk through Queen’s Park at night (or like, ever, really)
  • Don’t step on the streetcar tracks after it’s rained
  • You can walk anywhere
  • Make the crosswalks work in your favor. If you have to cross the street both North/South and East/West anyway, go to whichever one is currently on WALK first.
  • Lake-effect humidity is brutal
  • Other pedestrians will never be happy with your walking speed. They’ll either zoom around you or dawdle in front of you.
  • You will never want for Tim Hortons, no matter where you are
  • Canadians rarely discriminate against foreigners; they just hate each other

There are obviously a lot more, but these are just the most obvious and/or humorous examples I have at the front of my mind.

The title of this post is a phrase I first saw on my first walk to school. Emblazoned across the AGO’s long front wall of glass, these words popped out at me, despite the practical font and the plethora of other sights surrounding me. You guys know where I’m going with this. In the absolute terror of being alone in a new city (and a new country!), this was just the reassurance I’d needed. Of course I realize that “You Belong Here” is a ploy to market memberships to the AGO, but on my walks home after overwhelming or homesick days, those three words never fail to perk me up. Cheesy antecdote over.