Friday morning ball-of-angst

hello, my blog-reading friends!
I hope this sunny morning finds you well. I woke up in a relaxed manner… but it all went downhill from there. Here’s why: I made the mistake of reading my HOROSCOPE! Yes, that’s right. I am feeling stressed out right now thanks to a tiny blurb in the Globe and Mail based on how the stars might, very generally, affect my fate.

I am a leo, so here’s what I got today:

LEO (July 24 – Aug. 23):

Sit back, close your eyes and imagine where you would most like to be and what you would most like to be doing by this time next year. Do you have what it takes to make it happen? Yes you do, so start on it now.

(want yours? find it here)

AHRRRRRRRG! What the poor old horoscope writer person doesn’t know is that she just put her finger on a very sensitive spot: the question of WHAT TO DO NEXT.

Now in the second year of my Master’s degree, it’s a question that is starting to come up a lot these days. “So, are you applying for a PhD?” is a question I get a lot. “No? Hmm. So what are you going to do?”

It’s frightening. I have just spent too much time desperately clicking through various PhD programs here and in the U.S in a panicked oh-my-god, should-I-be-doing-a-PhD-if-so-where-and-what-will-I-do-it-in frenzy. Not hugely productive.

Unlike people doing degrees in things that lead to jobs, I am doing a degree in Cultural Studies, which is just a nice way of saying, “you’re interesting. Too bad we have no idea what to do with you.”

It’s interesting, too, to look ahead and realize that at this time next year, I don’t even know where I’ll be living… or really, what I will be doing.

I am resistant to the idea of applying for a PhD just for the heck of it — that seems silly (that said, it’s how I ended up here… so maybe there is something to it?)

Regular blog readers will know that I went through a phase where I was being all at peace with the idea of not knowing.. at just trusting that somehow the universe and I would get it sorted out, and I’d find meaningful work and some kind of path to follow til I figure out what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. Well, let’s be honest: that’s a pretty passive way to live your life, right?

There are opportunities out there, and many of them have fixed deadlines (hello, funding?) — they’re all just out there waiting to be taken advantage of, right?

(what to do, what to do! Anyone else in this situation? I’ll take advice in whatever shape I can get it in these days…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Road-tripping

hiya readers-

I’ve just consumed a significantly-sized latte at the Tea Room on campus. I usually try and resist sipping on expensive, caffeinated beverages unless it’s a special occasion. Today, however, I decided I deserved one.

That’s because I am just getting back into things after spending the weekend away. A friend was celebrating a Major Birthday Landmark (one that ended in zero) and decided she wanted to spend a celebratory weekend visiting a friend with a house in New Hampshire. We set off on Friday night, pulling in to our destination at a dark hour after a fun, chatty, music-filled ride.

I know what you’re thinking. “Why does Meredith deserve a latte after being away all weekend? Shouldn’t she be buckling down over her neglected work, rather than drinking large, expensive, milky, hot beverages?”

Yes. But allow me to continue.

It was a great weekend: a house-full of interesting women. Cozy downtime. Walks in the brisk, chilly air. Shopping trips (though grad student income meant they were actually browsing trips for me, shopping trips for others). Great meals.. I feel as though I squeezed a week’s worth of action into a few short days.

I had tucked some academic tomes into my bag, but to be honest, I barely cracked ‘em. It felt like the company I was keeping, and the discussions we were having were just as important for me (and the creative process) as dipping into my library books.

On the ride home, we decided to stop in at MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) for a quick browse. It was a fantastic visit… the shows were exciting, the space was beautiful.. it was, all in all, hugely inspiring. Regretfully, however, while driving through Williamstown not long after, we were pretty seriously rear-ended by a guy in a fancy SUV who was too distracted to see us stopped at a crosswalk up ahead. He bashed into us with enough force to put a giant dent in my friend’s (relatively new) car (enough to render the hatchback un-useable), and to smash up the tail lights. We ended up driving to a hardware store (tail lights trailing behind us) and buying 3 different kinds of tape in order to get them fixed up well enough so that we could drive home.

And then there was the drive! Already behind schedule thanks to the accident, we ended up doing most of the driving in the dark — with enough intermittent rain and sleet to make things pretty stressful. And then, just when we were about to get ourselves onto the last stretch of Canada-bound highway, we got seriously lost and ended up driving along tiny, dark highways forever (while being watched by deer) with not a soul in site (we even stopped in at the fire house in one tiny town thinking we might find someone: but to no avail).

We finally did make it back to the highway, and over the bridge, and swiftly through customs. But I have to say, when we did get home, man-oh-man: I needed a sip of the scotch I’d bought at the Duty Free.

(I also really needed that latte this morning, see?).

Ah adventure: it’s good for the spirit. (You can’t read ALL the time you know!)

 

 

 

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Rainy Thursday

Hello, rainy Thursday!

I am writing this from the public library — Kingston’s central branch on Johnston street. I met a friend for an early-ish breakfast at the Sleepless Goat this morning. She was heading over to campus to get some work done, when I realized I wanted a bit of a change in the ol’ routine, so I came here.

I think I’ve written about the public library before. I like it here because of the comfortable chairs lined up along a row of big windows facing out onto the street. I’m sitting in just such a chair now, watching people coming in out of the rain. The public library is a very special sort of refuge place: one where people can sit quietly and do whatever it is they need to do, without feeling pressure to buy anything, to be anything, to think anything in particular.

It’s a gently encouraging sort of place: one that dares people to slow down, to read, to think, to be still, to doze, to catch up on email, to meet neighbours over the displays of new books. Though I like working at the university library, it’s interesting to work surrounded by a completely different cross section of the quietly contemplative. Perhaps I’m being romantic about it, but I often feel like the learning that happens here doesn’t have the same anxious undertones. The people reading around me aren’t necessarily doing it because they HAVE to, in order to pass a class. They’re often here because they want to be — or, for all I know, because they have nowhere else to be. Whatever the circumstances, the atmosphere is different. And that’s interesting.

An older woman has just come in looking for her lost gloves. The librarian she has cornered hasn’t found any gloves, and just bestowed that news upon the worried woman. “Well,” she said after a moment. “Now that I’ve got you, can I ask about a book on Guatamala?” They’ve just gone in search of the book. Lovely.

To my left, a man is drinking coffee from a styrofoam cup while texting. He is, boldly on this wet day, wearing very very white running shoes. To my right, another older man, balding, but with his remaining hair tied back in a ponytail, is reading the Whig-Standard. Another man is flipping through a book whose contents I cannot discern. He seems quite engrossed. And at a nearby table, a younger women is writing intently, though she just took a break to talk with two soggy teenagers who stopped in to see her.

Since I am here, I’m going to try and get some writing done — but it’s going take some willpower. I could easily spend my day watching the various people coming and going, or gazing out at the rain. I could also easily fall asleep in this chair.

 

 

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Monday morning restless

hiya readers, hello new week!

It’s 11:00 am, and I am happy to report that I’ve managed to get a couple things done this morning. Regretfully, it’s all been stuff on the computer, meaning that by now, I am tired of my desk-side hunch. My shoulders are tight and seemingly fed up with me. I’ve been imbibing a steady stream of coffee and water, in alternating gulps (the bonus, of course, is that I have to get up all the time to pee, which is probably a good thing, from a movement point-of-view).

On Friday, I wrote that I was going to try and disengage from the computer a little this weekend. I had big plans that involved resisting its don’t-you-wanna-check-your-email beckon in favour of hunkering down with physical things like people and books.

And did it work? Well, no, not really. And, sort of.

I feel utterly incapable of not starting the day by taking stock of my email — even on the weekend. This weekend, as it turns out, it was particularly crucial, when someone asked me to do some last minute, to-deadline editing for them — work I really needed to do at the screen.

Because I don’t have a cellphone (I can hear the jaws dropping right across campus), email is also on the key ways I keep on top of my social life — because although I do have a landline, I can check my email when I’m out of the house.

In other words, not logging in at some point (or, as it turns out, a bunch of times through the day) really isn’t a viable option.

I ended up spending a chunk of my sunday downloading articles relevant to my thesis research (though I’ve written my thesis project proposal, I still owe an annotated bibliography with between 25 and 30 sources!), but rather than reading them off the screen, I made the environmentally dubious choice and printed them out on PAPER (recycled).

And here’s where I triumphed over my computer.

With yesterday being Hallowe’en, I was invited to help shell out at a friend’s house (we get very few kids where I live). Because we both had work to do, we plunked ourselves in the front room and (doing our best to avoid a bowl full of mini chocolate bars) spent some productive time. I had made the deliberate decision NOT to bring my computer — meaning that between door bell rings, I was forced to sit and contemplate words on paper, rather than words on screen. It was satisfying, busily underlining and jotting notes in the margins. I’m pleased to report that, without the distraction of my incessantly demanding email account or other various e-distractions, I managed to get quite a few things read.

Obviously, the key to productivity (and overall well-being) is not to work anywhere near the computer, if it’s at all possible.

(and with that, she signed off in a flourish, slamming her computer shut in triumph and marching out into the day without it!)

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Screen-time

I’m sure you’ve all felt this at various points, but I’m feeling it particularly acutely these days: I’m sick of my computer.

It’s not like I am currently pounding out a thesis on it or anything. It’s not like I am obliged to spend many hours a day staring at its shiny little screen, a gaping portal to anything-I-want-to-know-about-anything. But I’m sick of it none-the-less.

I’m tired of the way it sits, beckoning me, from the corner of my apartment. I hate the way it slurps up hours, never satisfied. I hate the way I feel compelled to sit before it, helplessly waiting for things to happen — for emails to arrive, for interesting things to unfold in the news, for new pictures of my friends doing mundane things on Facebook…whatever I can get.

I’m also sick of being surrounded by other people whose eyeballs are glued to their gadgets. Taking the train back to Kingston on Wednesday, for example, I was dismayed by how many people were wiling away the hours before their screens, both hand-held and laptop-sized. I’m tired to nearly running into people on the street who can’t control their compulsive texting.

Recently, I’ve found myself reminiscing to a time when my daily existence didn’t depend on my computer. I’m old enough to remember a time when communicating with other people through the computer was a distant dream. I remember the ‘experiment’ we participated in as part of a grade 13 writing class — we had to exchange and critique poems written by high school students in another part of the country.  We did it “on-line” (the term was new back then) and, even more amazing, had our writing critiqued by a professional poet sitting in yet another location. It was, I will admit, sort of exciting back then (I sound old, eh?).

Well now that computing is part of the daily practice, and that my little black box gets the bulk of my time during a typical day, the novelty is wearing off. What I’m sick of, I think, is not necessarily the practice of computing, but the hold my computer has over me (and, if I can trust my observations, pretty much everyone else at this university, too!).

That’s why I am seriously considering trying to take a break. Obviously, as I student I can’t entirely give up my computer. I need it in order to find journal articles, to keep up to date with events happening on and off campus, and to generally stay engaged in the world (going off-line surely would be social suicide, right?).

But I think I’m going to spend the weekend rediscovering books. Maybe it’s the fall, but I’m feeling the urge to get cozy with physical pages, reading in the world of here and now, putting the portal-to-everything off to the side for a bit. We’ll see what happens.

For now, I’m going to head to the library and take out a stack of stuff so that I have somewhere to start this weekend… I’ll let you know how it goes on Monday. Happy weekending!

(Anyone else got ways of managing screen time? Have we reached the point of needing to establish screen-life balance? If so, how do we do it? As always, I’d love to hear from you!)

 

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Inspiration Elsewhere

uh-oh. It’s already Wednesday, and still not blog-post from me this week. Sorry. Falling down on the job. Here goes:

I’m on a train at the moment — barrelling back to Kingston after spending a couple of day s in Toronto. It was  a nice visit — brief, but good. I went to a very special performance last night at the Gardiner Museum (my main reason for heading to the big city, actually) by musician Christine Fellows and visual artist Shary Boyle. Boyle has been doing what she calls “live projection” (check out the link) for awhile now. The performances are amazingly magical, and I feel lucky that I was able to see one in which she collaborated with Christine Fellows, a fabulously talented musician.

Actually, one of Fellows’ music videos features the duo in performance — it’s a really beautiful piece. You can watch it online (I can’t provide the link right now because VIA restricts site access… a bandwidth issue, I think). I will post it later today.

Anyway, I figured that since I was in the city, I’d go see Shary Boyle’s work currently on-view at the Art Gallery of Ontario as part of a special solo exhibition called ‘Flesh and Blood‘. I was not disappointed by the exhibition. These days, she makes beautiful, strange, sometimes full-on demented little porcelain figurines…lots of fun to peruse.

And while I was there, I decided to take a stroll through the other galleries. It had been awhile since I’d been to the AGO, and with nowhere pressing to be, I figured I could do a little meandering. It was a truly lovely time! I feel re-energized about the power of paint and the emotional impact a brilliant patch of deftly applied colour can have on a person. Frank Gehry‘s beautiful architected spaces don’t hurt either.

On the 4th floor of the gallery, I spent a little time checking out a show called ‘At Work: Hesse, Goodwin, Martin’ — though it featured three not-obviously-related female artists, it focused on the fact that they all had busy studio practices.. meaning they spent a lot of time in their studies puzzling things out, making drawings, generally performing the act of creativity. It was this show in which I found the most graspable inspiration in my current role as a graduate student.

I was particularly taken with a number of glass cases featuring the notebooks and sketchbooks of artist Betty Goodwin. She was a practiced notebook-keeper. She used them to jot down fragments of ideas, loose, scratchy sketches and anything else she didn’t have time to fully-realize but didn’t want to forget. What I was particularly impressed by (and a little inspired by, too!) was the practice of notebook keeping — as both a creative outlet and inspiration, and as a means to chart the general progression of  life and work.

I used to keep a journal with some regularity, but somewhere along the way I dropped the habit. Many great minds/artists/creative types have done the same. Now, my mind chock-ful of inspiration after my art-viewing excursion, I’m inclined to think it’s time for me to take up the practice again…

(Anyone else keep a journal or ideas notebook? I’d love to hear about your practice!)

This train is hurtling speedily towards Kingston now, so I’m going to sign off and turn my attention to a book of the academic variety. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not on holiday!

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Smartness

Hello, Friday! It’s been not a bad week, I must say. I can’t tell you that I did a whole heck of a lot of real productive work on my thesis project, but I DID get my GREB application submitted on-time (only to find that Cultural Studies has now established a Unit REB, only failed to convey that information to CS students!) (and sorry, non-grad school folks who may not know what I’m on about!).

It has, however, been a great week for people and ideas (“which is the stuff of grad school, right?” she asked, desperately trying to justify it). I took advantage of having a visiting professor in town. Though it was a little daunting at times, I had an interesting time listening to N. Katherine Hayles, in town from Duke University, speak in a number of different contexts at Queen’s. Though she delivered a lecture on Thursday afternoon that flew by, miles over my head (though I did grasp and enjoy the first bit of it!), she gave another one last night that was quite a bit easier to follow. Called ‘In the Shadows of Surveillance: Secret Codes in the Telegraph Era’, Hayles spoke for about an hour about the development of telegraph technology and the various ways in which language was codified for transmission over cable. Then this morning, Prof. Hayles hosted a more informal chat, 2-hour-long chat with a small group of students and profs.

I will admit that at times I felt a little frustrated with the experience of partaking in these lectures/discussions. I felt frustrated with myself a lot, because I didn’t really have the background that a lot of the other participants (particularly people working in the pure social sciences) had. I felt frustrated with my own lack of knowledge, though at the same time, slightly buoyed by that feeling one gets when realizing that there is just SO MUCH to learn about in this crazy world.

All in all, though, I enjoyed the experience of being encircled by ideas and conversation…even if I wasn’t always able to articulate my own thoughts enough to contribute meaningfully to the discussion. I was, however, a little dismayed by the lack of turn out from the Queen’s student body. Here was this significant thinker in town from Duke University, with only a handful of graduate students out to hear her talk. Even at last night’s public lecture, there couldn’t have been more than 20 people in the audience.

Are we already totally burnt out? Are there too many things going on on-campus? Or is the problem really the lack of centralized information source? Did people merely not know about the event?

I should get back to work. I’ve got articles to write, things to read, and if I don’t get some exercise this afternoon, I worry that my head may blow off.

Happy weekending!

 

 

 

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