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!