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.


A Lesson Learnt from Architecture: Technology and Social Media


We speak of technology as though it has its own character, with its own will and right to make choices. But too often we forget that technology and social media are mere gadgets and tools that channel the intentions of people, good or bad.

Technology and social media, like the right to vote, are placed in the hands of both wise and foolish people. Similarly, how technology and social media impact us and our society depends on in whose hands they’re in and how they’re used.

The world of social media is a web of contradictions. Websites are some of the most popular haunts on the Internet and have revolutionized the way people communicate and socialize. French philosopher Michel Serres claims that “for the first time in history, the voice of almost everyone can be heard”. Yet how clear can each person’s voice be as an individual?

I believe that in today’s connected world everyone can speak up but not everyone can be heard. In the brouhaha and din of social media, individuals’ voices are lost. How easy is it to write a post to raise awareness about a certain issue, and how easy is it to report that very post and have it removed instantly?

Technology and social media are extremely powerful tools in the hands of humans. Like the remarkable thunderbolt of Zeus, the relatively smaller gadgets in our hands are much stronger than we are; we cannot underestimate their potential to work with us and their potential to have authority over us.

Competitiveness: How It Can Make or Break You


Ah, competitiveness. How we’ve all had those moments when we wanted to be better than your friend, your class, or maybe even the entire school. The spirit of competition and that lingering sense of superiority exists within all of us. It’s no surprise that in a place like a university, competition is in everyone. It’s really how we utilize that drive that ultimately forms the dividing line between pushing yourself to succeed and running yourself into the ground. Continue reading “Competitiveness: How It Can Make or Break You”

My TAs: A Confession

Small class

We’ve discussed professors in the past, whether they’re nice or loud or mean or weird… but have you been observing your TAs, too? Here is what I think of mine!

I have three TAs this semester. The first one for film studies is a near-middle-aged man, light-brown skinned, possibly from Romania or Italy or Spain or somewhere in the Middle East. The day I saw him, he was wearing an oversized brown-buttoned shirt, and a pair of grey jeans. It was not interesting. I thought that he was experienced in the subject matter, but whether he was or not, he didn’t seem to want to share his experiences with his students. He spoke with the voice of a dying mosquito, and seemed very nervous. He can never finish a sentence in one breath, like he’s always thinking madly about the next possible word to say so we won’t think he’s talking rubbish. AND he said he did not know what Twitter was!

My next TA is in my computer science tutorial. Unfortunately, and ridiciously, his voice is shy monotone. He’s young and tall, and  the first time I saw him he wore a maroon turtleneck with a pair of old blue jeans. The class gave him the silent treatment, and he just stood there, hunched, with a silly smile on his face, and I suspect that in his head, he was screaming “Somebody say something for God’s sake! I am so terrible at this.”

My last TA was also in film studies. She is very talkative and easy-going! Hurray! This TA gave us a pretty thoughtful and fun lesson with plenty of questions and discussion. So, does this mean that females are better at being TAs? I sure hope not! Man! What are all you male TAs doing these days? Straighten your backs and show us your strong, confident male selves! That being said, despite all their different characteristics I do like all of my TAs. I hope I can say that for the rest of my degree!

Regretting UofT? Don’t.

Let’s start off by saying UofT is an amazing institution to begin with, but it’s no secret university can be somewhat soul sucking. I know there are some of you who have regrets about choosing UofT, or feel as though university is not for you. Perhaps some of you want to transfer to a smaller city, or a more social university. Yes UofT can be very daunting and secluded, even with all the efforts the university makes to get you involved. I’m sure there are hundreds of student feeling the same weight and loneliness at UofT as you. Living in a huge city like Toronto certainly has it’s ups and downs.

Ups: Opportunities are everywhere and it’s calling your name. Any interests/passions you may have (music, clubbing, life-drawing, thrift-shopping) or not sure what your passions are, it’s out there. And last but not least, absorbing culture and diversity. Toronto prides itself on its diversity and it makes you a more humble person without you even knowing it. For example, if you are in the LGBT community there are hundreds of organizations/events that you can partake in. Not every place in the world would have that. Now the trick is finding where all these amazing things are.

Downs: Having a million things to do but not knowing where to go or what to do. Being invisible in a sea of people. Nobody caring who you are or what you do. Highschool for me sucked simply because it was not what I expected and I felt out of place and alone. There were no such thing as cliques or rumours at my high-school because nobody cared or knew you well enough to play the stereotypes. A lot of people from my residence who came from small towns, amazed me with their stories of how Americanized their schools were. You know that whole party, jocks, nerds, mean girls, scandalous gossips thing. And a part of me has always wanted that since that is what I am conditioned to expect through Americanized programming. But it was mostly community that I wanted, and I came into university expecting to meet people like myself, get connected, and feel a sense of community.

However that has not been the case yet, since UofT is quite isolating. The hardest thing at UofT besides the overbearing amount of work, is the lack of social-life. Funny thing is we knew coming to UofT would mean forfeiting our social-life. Even moving into residence was not that helpful since everyone is busy with their own lives and not everyone makes the effort. It’s difficult to network and build connections in such a vast city of over 5 million people and even harder if you were a commuter. All I have to say to you guys is don’t worry. Truth of the matter is, you are getting one of the best educations in the world, and though it’s challenging and it’s a lot of hard work, it makes you a stronger, more well-crafted person. The key is to find balance between work and play.

I know everyone says this, but seriously, it doesn’t matter if you graduate with a 4.0 GPA if you’re lacking the communication skills you need to nail an interview to land the job.

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?