Messy Makes It Happen

What do you do when you’ve been trying to work something out for a while but your efforts don’t seem to bear any fruit? When you’ve been working on that essay for hours, and you can tell before you’re even half-way through it won’t turn out as well as you want it to? Or when you have a club that hasn’t been as active as it should be despite your best efforts?

Faced with such a scenario myself and drawing from personal experience, I’ve found, there are two options to choose from moving forward:

  1. Scrap everything you’ve got so far, and start again from scratch.
  2. Work with what you’ve got and try to improve on it.

Sometimes it’s easier to scrap what you’ve got and start on a clean slate; this way, you don’t have to work through existing problems you’ve tried solving, and can start with a fresh page, a fresh mind, a fresh start. Other times, starting from scratch means having to rebuild your foundations which takes a lot of time and effort. I’ve recently had two separate experiences, both pointing to the same conclusion: messy makes it happen. Never give up on what you’ve got going just because it’s not going your way or makes you feel uncomfortable. Push through the discomfort because, quite often, after the initial stage of difficulty, incredible things can happen. A whole new approach to the problem can emerge—a solution completely unfamiliar and unexpected.

 

At the construction site of Union Station.

This first experience was in one of my Architectural studio classes. I was working on a drawing for weeks before I realised that I had made a mistake and that my drawings were inaccurate. Faced with this problem, I decided to clear my slate and start from scratch because I was stuck and couldn’t make my way out out of the situation. My solution was to completely step out of the maze and start again, rather than turn around and try to find another path out of my problem. Looking back, I wish I had chosen the second option because I realised I would have figured out a solution to my problem if I had only spent more time thinking about it. I got scared. I ran into a problem and, in a state of fear, saw no way out, so I chose to run away and start again. Here’s what I learned: when curious minds are given enough time, space, and freedom, the imagination has room to roam. So give yourself enough time, space and freedom to think through a problem and follow lines of inquiry down a new path.

My second experience was completely different from this first one.  As a student minoring in Italian, I recently joined the Italian Undergraduate Students’ Cultural Association (IUSCA) as a third year undergraduate representative. Upon joining the club, I learned the organisation had previously experienced a downfall and wasn’t actively running. Years later, a zealous undergraduate student, had a vision of creating an Italian club that would serve more as a family than a formal organisation. The club would conduct events ranging from study group sessions, to a talent show based on Italian culture for students of the Italian department and beyond. This student, like me, had been faced with two options: should she try to revive the extinct IUSCA group, or establish a new organisation from scratch? This student chose to work with the existing club, making it stronger than it ever was before.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, she understood that messy does not necessarily mean bad, and that we shouldn’t give up on something just because it doesn’t initially seem to be working out. Through my experience, I came to learn this too.

messy makes it happen.

 

Undressing Nightlife Dress Codes

During the summer months my friends and I rarely stay inside the house. We can usually be found barhopping downtown. Having explored Toronto’s nightlife for over a year, it is easy to stop noticing things. For example, how most of the attire for females at bars and clubs isn’t exactly what you would wear to church on Sunday. Being a student in downtown Toronto lead me to become unaware of the nightlife expectations placed on us.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe this summer, meaning I had the opportunity to explore the nightlife of other cities. My first night out I was with a mid- to late twenty-something crowd when we decided to go to a trendy rooftop club in the heart Rome’s l’Eur. It was packed. So packed that the line extended down the street. We were lucky to get in because we knew someone (ayeeee connections!). Once inside, it was like a club in Toronto except cleaner and less trashy. Also noticeable was how the women there were dressed. These girls were dressed like a girl in Toronto would be dressed to go to dinner or the movies and they looked super comfortable and happy with themselves.

Moreover, how they felt and looked translated in the way the opposite sex reached out to them. In Toronto, most males at bars or clubs act a certain way, and lets just say they aren’t usually looking to get to know you the next day. In Rome, I was approached by a few guys (from the ages of early twenties all the way to late twenties) and I found –here comes the real shocker—that they were interested in actually getting to know my likes, dislikes, interests…ME. They weren’t touchy and extremely respectful. True gentlemen.

After recovering from those nights and getting some deeply deserved sleep, I started to think about what would happen if my friends in Toronto and I dressed the way the other girls and I did at clubs in Italy. I knew the reaction of other people, both guys and girls, would be completely different. Why is that? Why is it that in Toronto if women don’t dress like pop culture tells them to they are most likely not taken seriously, or completely ignored? Or sometimes not even LET IN to these bars and clubs? I mean Italy has pop culture too, less significant on a world scale but still very prominent in society. Is it because in Italy the culture expresses the idea that less makeup and more clothing is more? Is it a result of the influence of the American film, music, and fashion industries on Canada, or more specifically Toronto? Is it because females think that they have to show it all off even if they don’t want to just to get any attention?

I was almost 100% certain that if I went to a bar dressed with the same outfit that I loved and felt great in on one of my nights out in Rome or Milan, I would be completely snubbed by the boys, the girls, the bartender, the bodyguards, etc. So, since I like being proven right I decided to test it out. So Friday night, my best friend Amanda and I both tested it out and dressed how we wanted to dress. That is, in a nice pair of jeans, crewneck tank tops, and sandals and go to a hip bar downtown. We get to the front of the line and while the body guard checking our IDs didn’t say anything, his eyes said it all. We go inside and as predicted we didn’t make as many friends and we would have if we dressed in our usual attires when we go out. However, the friends we did make are still in contact with us for future outings (very interesting, am I right?).

So at the end of this, what did I learn? People going to bars and clubs are going to dress in different ways and people should dress however they want, not they way society, the bodyguards, the location, or whatever tells us to. I learned this in Rome, Milan, and Toronto.

Moral of the story: dress however the hell you want. You do you.

A LOVEly Valentine’s Day

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Alone on Valentine’s Day? Do not fear, for Aphrodite is here (jokes, it’s just me)! Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and while being with that special someone on this holiday is always great (if you have one), who better to spend the day of love with than your girl friends? These ladies are, after all, the ones who have been there and supported you since the beginning. What’s also amazing is the fact that we live in a vibrant and fabulous city with tons of potential for V-Day fun.

Firstly, what’s better than a night full of food and gossipping? Nothing! Toronto has a wide range of restaurants and pubs that have the perfect Valentine’s Day atmosphere. For those (like me) whose heart is dedicated to Hogwarts, there’s The Lockhart near Dufferin Station. For those (like me again) who like sweets, there’s the Nutella Bar! Another entertaining idea is going to a theatre production. Possibilities? Kinky Boots at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, The Winter’s Tale at the Coal Mine Theatre, Gaslight at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, and many more.

If your ideal girls day is one of relaxation, what better way to spend it than at the spa? Toronto has a variety of spots doing Valentine’s Day packages. Want to stay home instead? A DIY spa is easy to make.  Glamour has some great tips, including how to make a sugary scrub and tasty (healthy!) drinks. Another way to relax on Valentine’s Day is to watch a rom com. Whether at home or at the movies (How to Be Single is coming out on February 12th), binge-watching romantic comedies with your besties at a sleepover with popcorn and nail polish is a good idea any time of year.

Hope you feel the love! XOXO!

A Meditation on Cancer, Climate Change, and Life

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Astronaut Piers Sellers recently published an article in The New York Times Sunday Review section. I came across it on Twitter, seized by its audacious title: “Cancer and Climate Change”. With an open mind, I learned that the 60-year-old NASA scientist recently diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer wants nothing more than to spend his remaining days back at work.

I was once told to be open-minded, but not so much so that my brain falls out of my head. This time, it did. I was shocked to see that Sellers could not find something else to do with his golden years, like conquering Mount Everest or enjoying a permanent spot at a beach resort. I found this bloodlessly macabre. In fact, I closed the tab before I even finished the article.

I was appalled by Sellers’ end-of-life decision because it counters what many others (and myself) have in mind for our own retirements, mostly including checking off those selfish, self-indulgent, and pathetic items on our to-do list before we die. In fact, Dr. Oliver W. Sacks, the renowned neurologist and author, published a series of farewell articles in the NYT and his memoir On the Move when his melanoma metastasized into his liver in 2015. He said “I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at News Hour every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.” Of course, this is not to say that Dr. Sacks is selfish or pathetic. He chose intimacy with his lover and readers instead of taking a stand on global issues when he knew his expiration date was soon to come. Isn’t it only normal for terminal patients to take their remaining time to enjoy the limited clarity of mind which comes with their condition to better face the unfair early death sentence put on their lives?

Seller’s altruistic reasoning and plan on what to do before death shames mine into inferiority. In the next few days, I couldn’t shake his article from my mind, and so decided to resolve my feelings. At the end of the article Sellers reveals his reason for going back to work. He is not just another faceless member of NASA’s staff. Rather, he was an astronaut who walked in space above the Earth and floated alongside the International Space Station. He did what many can only dream of doing, and it was continuing to live this dream which gave him the reason he needed to go back to work, even with cancer.

Like many of you who grind day in and day out for a minimum wage paycheck to survive, you bet that when I face death I will spend all of my time and money doing things I never got to indulge in: visiting foreign lands, skydiving, or just simply being lazy. I cannot even attempt to image what a fantastic life Sellers has lived; however, by finishing his article, I do seem to understand why he chose going back to work as the only item on his bucket list. His life experiences have trumped anything my supposedly boundless brain could ever achieve. Murakami liked to consider people as onions; he said if you peel people layers after layers, what’s left is pride. Reading Seller’s article is like dicing an onion; that burning sensation in your eyes is unmistakable.

I am not writing to condescend anyone’s choices or decisions, but rather to ask the question of how we should live our lives, even without immediate death sentences chasing our rears. Should we push our limits and expand our boundaries to the point that we have little happiness, or should we just be normal and even mediocre so that we can enjoy the present and not worry about how we will become the next Bill Gates or Charles Darwin? Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a 36-year old neurosurgeon, died of metastasized lung cancer. Just before his passing he wrote When Breath Becomes Air in which he said that he postponed learning how to live while he was becoming a neurosurgeon. When he finally stopped striving forward, he ended up spending the last moments of his life learning how to die.

I understand the yearning to achieve success, and surely everyone wants a piece of that pie. The question to ask yourself is: “what are you willing to forfeit and sacrifice for it?” It is not simply about losing a few hours of sleep, but your sanity. Often, our choices can lead us to the brink of collapse.

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Everybody loves poignant tales in which benign madness precipitates success. Van Gogh’s madness devastated his life and killed him, but it allowed him to see colors unlike anybody else before and after him. Depression made Sylvia Plath stick her head inside a carbon monoxide-filled oven, but one can also argue that her sensitivity granted her the ability to write some of the most beautiful and thoughtful poetry in contemporary literature. By the same token, alcoholism took Eleanora Fagan’ s ( Billie Holiday)’s liver and life, but she claimed alcohol loosened her up to produce some of the best of jazz vocals in the recording business.

Today, everyone is looking for this form of ephemeral and intelligent madness so that we too can become brilliant. Some of us work 24/7/365 to  convince this genius to visit us; others cheat their way through drugs,  seeking out-of-body experiences. We no longer take care of ourselves, nor do we pay attention to our surroundings, where love, content, and satisfaction all lie.

The question I have is why we all want to be the greatest when we know that there can often only be one in most disciplines. The Earth revolves around its axis with or without you, no matter who you are. If you don’t believe me, recall Albert Einstein, George Washington, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandel, and more. People often forget that these great figures all stood on the shoulders of giants, as Newton once said. So I ask you: where would that shoulder be if we all want to be the ones standing on top of it?

I am not dissuading anyone from trying to achieve the best in themselves. I am simply saying that to enjoy your life while you have it you must pursue realistic goals, not egocentric ones. Naomi Shihab Nye wrote “I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.” So do try hard, but also do remember what Charles Dickens said in Great Expectations, “If you can’t get to be uncommon through going straight, you’ll never get to do it through going crooked. So don’t tell no more on ’em, Pip, and live well and die happy.”

Why I’m Terrified to Turn 20

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I’ve never had something consume me so much in my life as the thought of turning 20. To my friends and family, this seems like the silliest worry I could possibly be having (especially around exam season). I’m still so young! Why does this milestone mean so much to me?

It’s almost as if I’m going through a quarter-life crisis. Now that my birthday is fast approaching, I can’t help but feel sheer anxiety over how to prepare for the big day. As a third-year student, it doesn’t help much that my birthday is on a weekday and I have an exam the day after. Yet the niggling thoughts haven’t gone away: What should I wear? What should I do? Who should I spend it with? Am I ready for this?

19 was my favorite age. It’s the age of being a legal adult while still being a teenager. It’s the age where I wasn’t embarrassed about being a young adult, but celebrated it. There’s so much less responsibility at 19. This is the year I realized “whoa, I need to get a head start on my adult life.”

One of my biggest fears is ending up as the “twenty-something” that society and the media is constantly criticizing. For me, this whole year was preparation for turning 20. I know for a fact that I took risks, had new experiences, and put myself out there with the sole justification being that I was 19. Now that I’m almost 20, what will my excuse be? The worst is reading up on one of my role models only to discover that they had launched their career at 19, or seeing a young person kicking butt in their community and finding out they’re 19 too (or younger).

Maybe this crisis I’m having is due to my young brain’s selective (and short) attention span, but it still strikes me in the feels whenever I am reminded that my adolescence is almost over.

Prep Courses

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November sucks. The professors and course coordinators have all ganged up and decided to just bleep us all over for a whole month. It doesn’t get better. There will be the illusion of a break before the December exams hit, but it is only that: an illusion. Want to party for the last time? Exams are going to sneak up on your when you’re hung over. Need a break? You’ll be dreaming about your notes. If you’re lucky, you will relive a lecture in a dream, except your professor will be speaking in a dialect of Mongolian. Imagine learning about fly embryos in Mongolian.

If you are anything like me, you’re seriously considering all those multicoloured pamphlets about prep sessions that have been handed out to you around your classes, especially if you’re a first year life science student. I’ve had experience with a couple different prep courses and centres, and I’ve decided to break them down for you and maybe give some advice on studying I’ve gathered over the past two years. Continue reading “Prep Courses”

My Kingdom for a Course

At some point in the famous Shakespeare play “Richard III” the title character gets knocked off his horse and starts foolishly yelling that he’ll gladly give up his entire kingdom for another horse. Clearly, King Richard doesn’t know the first thing about haggling.

A key lesson in Haggling 101 is that you never, ever start out with your highest bid. You can’t just throw all your chips on the table at the start. That’s just bad bartering. Opening negotiations by offering up your entire kingdom for a horse robs you of all your leverage.

Instead of the whole kingdom, Richard should have kicked things off by coughing up a couple of manors and maybe a few towns. After intense discussion, he could  have sweetened the deal by throwing in a royal title like “duke” or “baron”.  The fact that someone was trying to stab Richard at the time not withstanding, you gotta play hardball!

I’m not a Literature student, and I haven’t studied Shakespeare since highschool, but right now I’d gladly give up ol’ Richard’s entire kingdom for a course in Shakespeare. As a matter of fact, I’d accept a course in a lot of things right now. In my final year before graduation, I need one more full credit to hit 20, and with all my degree requirements completed it can be in just about anything. Sadly, as of right now I remain a credit short.

I admit, I could have started my search for a course sooner. I could also have just stuck it out and taken a hard course no one else wanted to take that still had room. Ideally, I’d like to take an interesting course that isn’t the hardest course I’ve ever taken, but a rewarding learning experience. Something I find interesting, but haven’t had the chance to learn about while completing my major. It seems like all the good classes like that are full.

So yeah, this is mostly my fault, but I find it a little frustrating the insane number of people on waitlists for so small a selection of courses. For a guy in my situation, looking for a course in just about anything hasn’t been as easy as you’d think. Don’t make my mistake.