Category Archives: We’ve Got Issues

Musical Review of The Wedding Singer at Hart House

The Wedding Singer is a musical adapatation of the 1998 movie of the same name. Because most of you have seen it, and are familiar with the plot (even if you’re not, it’s a predictable rom-com) I’ve decided to skip to the good stuff. This is a review of Hart House’s ongoing production of The Wedding Singer, set to the music of the main theme/opening number of the show. Enjoy!

I saw this play 3 hours ago
I’m still humming some of the songs
‘Decided to write a review
Of what went right and what went wrong.
Now indulge me a moment, if you please;
I have a lot to say about this show,
and the actors I thought were good
and bad.
Here it goes:

Isaac has that “X-Factor” –
an accessible actor.
But his pitch control could
use improvement.

Ashley Gibson wasn’t bad,
and her singing really had
a lovely quality
that makes us all love her.

Cortina was a great, strong crooner
even when her mic went berserk.
But she couldn’t bring the humour
to her lines – they needed some work.

Horsman was a delightful dancer,
and her songs really brought
us to the moment.
Cattel was a rapping grandma –
what can I comment?

The ensemble was quite strong,
even in the weaker songs,
and their dancing was all
This show is just lots of fun
(‘cept for those who’ve seen it once).
I would recommend
you see it sometime soon.

(L to R) Ashley Gibson as Julia and Isaac Bell as Robbie. Photo credit to Scott Gorman.


Note 1: Yes, it’s not perfect. Considering the constraints – a review deadline and an imposed rhyme scheme and working in people’s names and accurate descriptions of their performances – it’s really not that bad. Seriously, if you’re looking for someone to write the opening for the next Tonys…

Note 2: Apologies to Mr Bell, who is treated with undue familiarity for the purpose of meter.

Note 3: There is some precedent for the moment/comment rhyme, imperfect though it may be. See Shakespeare’s Sonnet XV. I take full responsibility for the mangled syntax.



April is the Cruelest Month

First, I’d like to apologize. To poetry fans. To English students. To anyone who’s had any cursory exposure to literature and the search for deeper meaning in words beyond how nicely they fit into blog post titles. And of course, to Mr Eliot.

April is the cruelest month, though, at least for students. It’s exam and final essay time, that moment when the pedagogical procrastination that manifests itself as culminating assignments of obscenely high value rears its ugly head. Or ass. Excuse me; I’m frustrated.

I am frustrated because just yesterday I completed the first of my two exams this semester (the other is on the 29th; go figure) and just this evening I incorrectly answered a Jeopardy question about a topic that had been on the exam. Now, I’m almost certain I got that question right on the test, which means that in the twenty or since, I forgot something fairly important. Something fairly important that I learnt in a class that cost almost a thousand dollars. Something important and expensive that I spent twenty-four hours of class time learning and another thirty or so studying.

Rather than try to project my own experience on to you (I’m honest like that), I’ll ask you to think back to your winter examinations. If you had to take them again, right now, how much lower would your mark be? 10%? 20? “But of course it will be lower,” you say. “That was months ago.” “But,” I say, “why would you take a class if not to learn? And what is learning if not remembering and understanding after the fact?” And therein lies the problem: final exams are not conducive to learning.

They’re not necessarily obstructive, either; there’s no evidence to suggest that culminating exams encourage the forgetting of information, but there’s very little to suggest that they actually evaluate what students will retain. The most common form of preparation is studying all the relevant material at once, over the course of a few weeks or days. This leads to cramming, which, even when it does lead to higher exam grades – which is not as often as you might think – it almost always leads to lower long-term retention. This can be attributed to the distinction between long-term memory and working memory. (Here I apologize again, to psychology and neuroscience students.) Speaking generally, working memory lasts only in the short term, when the mind is focused on a project and the brain is employing all necessary processes and stressors to complete that project. Once that project is done, the memory is largely discarded as it is no longer useful.1

Long-term memory, however, is not subject to the fallacies of short-term methods like cramming, and is activated by studying important material in smaller chunks over a large period of time. Think back to a class that had multiple smaller evaluations throughout the year. How well do you remember material from that course, compared to the others you took that year? I know that I can tell you way more about De Morgan’s Theorem than I can about religious imagery in Skyscrapers of the Midwest, and that I can offer much more insight into the influence of African culture in the Caribbean than I can to um, that Shaw play with the guns. Long-term memory is simply better stimulated through evaluations spread out across the year, rather than only once or twice.

These kinds of observations have not gone unnoticed. At Harvard University, for instance, only 23% of classes end in final exams.2 Elsewhere in the world, universities are slowly turning to alternative methods to final exams, including the obvious choice of fewer, smaller evaluations. Not as always, the University of Toronto is fairly slow to catch up (that’s the closest thing to a compliment that I can give right now.) Although the percentage of classes with final exams is decreasing, they are still the norm and, in fact, mandatory in first-year courses.3 Welcome to UofT!

I recognize that there isn’t any actually useful information in here. Regardless of whether or not you know how effective exam studying is, you probably still have to do it. It probably still sucks. And you probably won’t remember much of it in a short while. Cruel, eh?

Finish Your Antibiotic Courses and Don’t Abuse Drugs

If you are easily grossed out by thoughts of yucky things, just obey the title and we won’t have any issues.

It started last Friday. Wait, no. Too fast.

It started during Reading Week. I got three wisdom teeth removed. I only had three. Two on my right side. It was a painful recovery – as expected – but I survived. I had my medicine and finished my full antibiotic course. I turned into a chipmunk for half a week. The check-up appointment with the oral surgeon went well; he said the recovery looked good. Life was good.

Then it started last Friday. I felt a strange swelling in my lower right jaw. Unsure if I had just slept wrong the night before, I decided it was probably nothing to worry about. Never make this assumption. Continue reading Finish Your Antibiotic Courses and Don’t Abuse Drugs

The Hangover – Sans Bradley Cooper, Unfortunately

I must confess that while I have never tried the much-vaunted greasy pork sandwich served up in a dirty ashtray (though it has unbounding appeal), there is nothing quite like fast food grease when battling the aftereffects of a bite from the rabid and snarling boarhound that is excessive alcohol consumption. The combination of an as of yet undeveloped frontal cortex and a freshly-purchased liver with not many miles on it breeds a dalliance between oneself and this pernicious beast and while this sloppy canine may present with wet kisses its bite packs a wallop like a donkey kick, a revelation usually reached at around 11 the next morn. The feeling is the kind common to all zombie movie extras, not the hankering for tasty brains; very few of them will take the method route there, but the disorientation, general queasiness, loss of self worth and the vague feeling your all too stunted brain can only guess is hunger. And as hunger appears the symptom with the easiest cure and your mind is host to deep thought-starved larvae it seems the quickest route to dispelling the regret shaped cloud around your skull.

Although it’s rare that last night will rear its pockmarked face in this way after upwards of 3 hours of unconsciousness, never underestimate a good expulsion of fluids through the mouth. Obviously one should aim for the most sanitary of conditions, ideally toilets or sinks rather than beds or friends, as most dorms won’t boast more than a Swiffer.

Now that yesterday’s abundant nutrition is done with one should continue on to today’s. As was said fast food, a pleasant phrase in and of itself, is a saviour in this instance, as its lack of any nutritional value doesn’t confuse your body into thinking there are worthwhile compounds in need of processing but rather just the daily grind of fats, calories, and other such gremlins that spend their days grid-locking your arteries. Muffins and other inventions of men who live on Drury Lane are recommended as they act like sponges to the hideous things you poured down your throat last night. Energy drinks will taste something akin to what you as a die-hard Harry Potter enthusiast can only assume goblin piss is like but will most certainly clear your mouth of the feeling that a cat has defecated in the back of your throat. Carbonated beverages of all types are encouraged,  bolstering your now near-empty energy bar. Fruit is allowed but not preferred as their textures do little for the fragile state of the stomach. Keeping hydrated is a must as alcohol, despite being one, drains a lot of liquid from the body making it harder to recover than a merciful god should allow. If your brain feels like a bullet train, or an actual bullet, has entered it, then Advil or some facsimile thereof will be much appreciated by your head and anyone within a couple miles of you.

But of all the carbonated beverages, pharmaceuticals, and real food-imitators, the best thing for a hangover is a friend who was there the night before and can commiserate. Misery loves company, but it also likes someone sitting closer to the TV remote who’s horrible at rock-paper-scissors to provide the day’s entertainment.

Skip your morning classes, avoid the scene at the liposuction clinic from Fight Club and anything featuring morbidly obese housewives, and you’ll be good to go (go nowhere that is).

The Math and Poetry of Second Semester

I’ve written before about pseudo-psychology and the way the mind – or my mind, at least – skews my perception of events and information to make false patterns. This happens a lot when it comes to assignment season, or exam season, or other relatively small periods of time defined by a particular event. I find it surprising, then, that I experience second semester in a vastly different way than I do the first.

In first semester, I can’t even remember how many months are between September and December; the time between the first class and the first exam seems indefinite, as if the calendar’s been printed over too many pages to be of much use. September is – what, three or four weeks of classes? October is four, and so is November, but one of them has a break. Then December… do I count December? Second semester, though, is exactly twelve weeks, with a one-week break in February. Not only do I know exactly how long it is from start to finish, I also know exactly how far through the semester I am at any given point. At the end of January of last semester, I made this startling (grade 3-level) discovery:

Week 1: 1/12 of semester

Week 2: 1/6 of semester

Week 3: 1/4 of semester

Week 4: 1/3 of semester

Week 6: 1/2 of Semester

The first half of the semester seems to fly by, and with each passing week the end seems disproportionately nearer. You can go from being 1/12 done your studies to 1/6 in only one week! And that’s not all: call now, and we’ll also give you a free, limited time… you get the idea.

University can be intimidating and unpleasant. When people tell you how to cope, they tell you to think positive thoughts and focus on the things that make you happy. But sometimes, nothing makes you happy and everything seems awful. When that happens, focus on the one universal positive of negative experiences: this, too, shall pass. Pretty quickly, if you think about it.

Time To Live It Up!

I just turned 20 a few days ago and it was – shockingly – a very awkward day for me. I am usually very cheerful and excited on my birthdays, as I’m sure everyone is at some point in their lives (if not always). But, for the first time in my life, I felt depressed. I consider myself a kid at heart and, up until the age of 19, I have always felt young and tell myself that I have time: time to do things I have always wanted to do; time to live the life that I have always dreamed of; time to find the right person. But now I feel that, soon, I’ll be 30, then 40, then 50… and my life will flash by before my eyes so much faster than I can imagine. Where I’m trying to go with this is to emphasize the fact that as students we spend so much of our time studying, cramming, writing exams, sitting in lectures, tutorials, and labs, and that we don’t realize that we are missing out on the best time of our lives. We are at our physical and mental peaks and are probably more energetic than we will ever be in our entire lives yet, although we all realize this, most of us don’t change our lifestyles. This is not to say that studying isn’t important – I study very hard and strive for the best grades possible all the time but, aside from doing part-time jobs, pulling off As in our courses, and getting amazing scores on LSAT/MCAT/GRE/DAT exams, we must also prioritize other aspects of our lives such as friends and relationships. At this point in our lives, our careers are our first priority (as they should be), but I think that we become so focused on our goals and become so detached from the outside world that we get lost and forget that all these accomplishments and possessions that we dream of probably won’t mean as much at the end of the day without love, friends, family, relationships, etc. I feel that it is an endless chase that we indulge in for the rest of our lives. Even after we get into  law school/med school/dental school/a business internship, we always want to get a promotion, get paid more, want more money, want more possessions, and we keep working harder and harder. Our desires are endless. I don’t want to seem very depressing, but I think as students we should all take a look at our lives and maybe readjust a few things here and there. Our grades/career take first priority, but we must also equally prioritize and make time for things that make us complete. This could be a hobby such as playing the guitar or piano or hanging out with your best friends or partying. You don’t want to wake up one day when you’re 30 or 40 and look back at your late teens and early 20s and regret that you didn’t fully ‘LIVE’.

Do you agree? I would love to read your thoughts on this. Until then… Happy New Year!

The Blue Pencil Crayon Hypothesis

“This is exercise four. You need to write the capital of Canada.”

“Oh,” says the grade 9 I’m tutoring, “what’s that?”

A thousand readings and lectures flash through my mind – the roots of oppression, the colonization of the Americas, the myriad sociological, psychological, philosophical reasons a 14-year-old born in Canada would not know its capital.

“Ottawa,” I tell her. “The capital city of Canada is Ottawa. That’s where the Prime Minister lives.”

As she writes the answer on her worksheet and moves on to exercise five – identifying the Great Lakes on a map of the country – I reflect on the past sessions I’ve spent volunteering, for a few hours a week, at a high-risk high school in North York. The program, co-ordinated by the Center for Community Partnerships on campus, has been challenging and rewarding. Challenging because it demands waking up at six-thirty and working with thirty high-energy kids with smartphones and iPods and serious attitude for three straight hours on a Monday; rewarding because it lets me put school work and anxiety out of my head, at least for a little while. There are times, like when students in grade 9 ask about something they should have learned in grade 2, that academic notions creep back into my head and the students become subjects of thought. Mostly, though, they’re distracted, disrespectful, delightful nuisances.

The University of Toronto has a reputation for placing academics above social lives, extra-curriculars, and athletics; a reputation consistently upheld by its bookish students. This is nothing new, of course – UTians figured this out decades ago, and have been blogging about it since.* The problem is, we constantly frame it in the context of stress or of fun, and rarely consider the other possible side-effects of getting swallowed up by an undergraduate program.

One such side-effect is the theorization, abstraction, and lesssonification of our universes that comes from studying them. In the Humanities, at least, post-modernism is so heavily concerned with developing new terminologies and frameworks that it’s way too easy to see real, concrete things as avatars of their academic subjects. The screen you’re looking at – is it a computer monitor or a product of a neo-colonial system of exploitation? You see what I’m getting at – it happens every time you stop talking and start discoursing or dialoguing.

We need a balance. We need to offset the abstract world of our studies by entering the real world and realizing that, however meaningful an application of Standpoint Theory may be at the time, it’s not going to shade in those Great Lakes any quicker. The merit of the TDSB Tutors in Schools program and those like it – and there are many – is that the experiences are so real and so engaging that they offer perspective where it is otherwise absent. In doing so, they allow us to reflect with some degree of clarity on our own lives, academic or otherwise.

I highly recommend them.

*I might need a fact check on that…