Griping about GREB again

hi all-

Welcome to a new week. Wasn’t the weekend lovely and sparkly? I sometimes feel like I am totally at the mercy of the weather. If it’s beautiful out, I completely lose my ability to concentrate: there is virtually nothing so important that it can’t wait til the sun goes behind a cloud. That’s what happened on Saturday, anyway. I had big plans about getting all sorts of work done, but then that damn sun was shining, and the fall leaves were particularly bright and crispy and… well. My powers of concentration didn’t have a chance.

The good news, however, is that a friend with equally weak powers of concentration agreed to humour me with an outdoor adventure. We ended up going for a bit of a drive that took us to the locks at Kingston Mills — part of the Rideau Canal. Here’s photographic evidence:

And this — pretty, no?

It’s easy, when you’re being all stressed out about your work, to forget to take advantage of all the loveliness lying just beyond the borders of our little city. If ever there was a time to explore what’s out there, this is it: beautiful fall days, bright sun and a well-deserved chance to shake off a little stress.

My friend and I ended up carrying up highway 15 for a bit, checking out a couple lock-sites further along the Rideau Canal. We fantasized a little about travelling all the way to Ottawa along it, but then we put our good-student hats back on and trundled back to the city (though not before stopping to buy dirt-cheap bags of apples…)

And now it’s Monday: another beautiful day, though one in which I forced myself to stick to the desk for the afternoon, at least. Those of you who read this blog regularly already know that I recently changed my thesis project. The biggest pain has been re-jumping through the proposal-writing and paper-shuffling hoops. Today, my task was to get my GREB (General Research Ethics Board) application ready for their next meeting (the due date is Wednesday) — I need to get it to my supervisor first to have her look it over/give me her thumbs up.

The exercise is not a particularly fun one, because you are essentially having to analyze your research in order to find every conceivable hole/place where someone might be ‘harmed’, and then figure out ways to do away with (or at least minimize) that harm. Since the subject matter I am dealing with in my research is so very personal, I have a feeling that GREB’s little red flags up before they’ve finished reading the first page… but we shall see. For now, I feel triumphant in that I have managed to get most of my application written… and since it’s still sunny out, I’m going for a walk!



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Book Learning and Other Lessons

I know this may be obvious, but I’m going to state it anyway: there’s way more to a university education than the stuff we learn in class and from books. Every time I make a new connection, learn something new about myself or try something I haven’t tried before, I’m reminded of that. It all counts!

Ok, maybe it’s also a way of justifying the fact that I’m probably not getting enough school work done… but am instead doing all sorts of interesting things which, at the end of the day, all contribute to my education/bettering as a person. Right? Hmm.

We’re really fortunate as university students because of the access we have to interesting people, talks, and events. In fact, I’m quite certain one could get away with being busy all day without doing any thesis-specific stuff. I swear.. every time I turn around there’s some interesting-sounding event I want to attend. It’s actually kind of overwhelming! I’ll admit that I find the balance hard to strike sometimes: EVERYTHING sounds so interesting, that I sometimes end up skipping it all, in favour of trying to whittle away my To-Do list.

But if you’re in Kingston today and tomorrow, I would encourage you to check out Instigate 2010: Anti-poverty Rant-In — an interdisciplinary, community/academic conference on poverty that is unfolding on campus and in various spots around the city. The organizers (fellow grad students Krystle Maki, Cara Fabre & David Thompson) are attempting to do something quite unique and important: create a space where activists and other members of the community can mingle with academics in a bid to get people outside of their respective bubbles — sharing ideas and building community.

Last night I attended a really inspiring opening at the Artel. As part of the conference, the community radio station, CFRC, commissioned a number of Kingston residents to make audio projects about their experiences with poverty. The project, called Below the Line gave people who might not otherwise have the opportunity, instruction in things like digital recording, multitrack editing and scriptwriting, then sent them into the world to produce their stories.

At last night’s opening, more than a few of us were moved by the results. I was most struck by the opening remarks, where the project participants talked briefly about their experiences with poverty and stigma, and what it meant to have their voices heard through this kind of project. Talking one-on-one with some of them afterwards, I was really struck by how little our communities ever mingle, and how much we really do have to learn from one another.

It was totally inspiring.

Here’s a TV news story about the project.

The audio projects will be aired on CFRC 101.9fm and on-line at on Monday, October 18 and 25 from 4-5:30pm. You can also stop in at  the Artel (205 Sydenham St.) until October 17 for the full audio experience.

Here’s to a weekend filled with interesting conversation, new connections and lots of other learning!

(oh- and thanks to those of you who have been posting comments, suggestions and general thoughts  – it is all appreciated! I like to hear what you’re thinking…so keep ’em coming).

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Oh geez. It’s Tuesday.

Anyone who has been reading this blog lately knows that I’ve wandering around town lately as a calmer, happier version of myself. My low-level anxiety (I keep it handily tucked in a back pocket where it can be hauled out at a moment’s notice) hasn’t been quite as on-call. I’ve been leaning towards the it’ll-probably-be-ok side of things lately, trusting in the universe while enjoying the company of books and out-of-town friends.

But I gotta say: I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep this up. Though Thanksgiving weekend was fun and social (though I didn’t make it home), I didn’t get quite as much accomplished on the productivity front as I might have liked. “Relax, Meredith!” I can hear you saying. “It was Thanksgiving! Take a break!” True enough.

But the problem with long weekends is that they make for short weeks. That can be a great thing when you are paid a salary and are merely ticking off the days between Sunday and Saturday. When you’re running your own schedule, and your to-do list yawns ahead of you, however, it can be a little panic inducing. I’ve got stuff to do, and it waits for no graduate student — holidays-be-damned!

It seems fitting, for example, that I opened up my email this morning to find a note from the head of the Cultural Studies department (sent to all 2nd year M.A students) reminding us that we are supposed to be setting up Proposal Approval Meetings with the department, as well as submitting annotated bibliographies (with 25-30 entries) in the very near future. (Wanna ask me if I’ve started mine? Wanna? Yeah?). Hello, beginning-of-the-week stress! gah.

And so, the week begins with a slow jog that is quickly becoming a clippity-cloppety gallop. There’s a good chance that by the end of the week it’ll be a full-on, heart-pounding run — but only time will tell. I am going to have to bring out all my best time-management techniques this week: strategies to delay procrastination, break tasks into more manageable chunks, and acknowledge the things that I do accomplish, even if the ‘work done’ list seems eternally (and frustratingly) short in comparison to the ‘work to-do’ list.

Of course, we’ve been having some beautiful days in this crazy, college town — it would likely do us all some good to make sure we get out into the sunshine a little while it’s out there to be had.






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Best Times

hiya, my blog-reading friends:

I hope this sunny day finds you feeling fine. I can’t tell you the boost I get from a day like this! The sun, the sweet-smelling air…I have just spent a huge chunk of the day reading out on my balcony in the sun.

I actually looked up while I was reading and couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to be: a breeze, bright sun, and an enjoyable book: I’m currently reading Sara Ahmed’s book ‘The Promise of Happiness’ for the class I am auditing. I was a little ironic, actually, to be reading a cultural critique on the notion of happiness, while realizing that what I was feeling was, in fact, that amorphous notion: happiness. Happiness: that thing which drives us, the end to which we are all striving. The culturally constructed promise of happiness.

I was living it.

Truly, friends, it’s been quite a week. Regretfully, it hasn’t been hugely productive on the work-front. I have been reading a lot (and really enjoying it), but I had big plans to get my application together for my next ethics review application (I have to resubmit now that I have a new thesis project) – and that didn’t happen.

I have, however, been having a great time — and heck, that’s gotta count for something, right? I’ve had a lot of friends in town this week — one who played a concert at Clark Hall pub on Sunday night, another who played a house-concert here last night… and I have yet another coming on the weekend because he on a book tour to promote his first novel (for those of you who are interested, you can visit Fernwood Publishing’s website here — where you’ll find more info on Chris Benjamin and his new novel, Drive By Saviours).

There is definitely something productive in being around productive people. I find it inspiring to have friends who write songs and perform, who write novels, and who do readings (Lily Hoang’s books launch at Novel Idea last night, by the way, was great — her new book, The Evolutionary Revolution, is really interesting and worth checking out). So even though I haven’t exactly been churning out material this week, there are times where it is important to just immerse oneself in the accomplishments and creativity of others.

Being in graduate school is definitely a bit of a luxury, in that we have the time to do that. Having time to think and read and experience things is a total gift.

And of course, since this is Thanksgiving weekend, it seems fitting that I should close with some exclamation about how thankful I am for all of it… which of course, I am!

I hope you all have fun, fabulous weekends.

(this is me holding my book triumphantly aloft in the sunshine…)

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Autumn’s Here…

Anyone out there a fan of Hawksley Workman? Days like today and yesterday — cold, grey — make it impossible not to think about his lovely song ‘Autumn’s Here’. Have a listen.

Certainly, there are lots of things to like about the fall. I like the smell of crispy air. I like brightly coloured leaves — especially kicking them around when they are knee deep on the ground. I like rediscovering my sweaters and scarves and hats. I like the idea of making soup and other cozy meals.

But I hate being cold.

And man, oh, man… I feel like I’ve been cold for days! It’s a funny time of year, only cause it still feels a little early to turn the heat on (only a month ago we were wearing shorts and sandals!). Instead, we end up shivering in our apartments wondering how it got so chilly so fast. Truth be told, we turned on the heat in my building (we were all freezing) yesterday and it’s made a huge difference.

Yep, I’ll take summer over winter any day.

There is, however, something about the fall that makes me feel particularly compelled to curl up with a book and a cup of tea and dig into some of the ideas that lurk between pages. There are a stack of ’em before me now: some are books related to my thesis project. Some are waiting to be read as part of the class I am auditing this semester (something I’m glad I am doing — mostly because it is forcing me to delve into material I might not otherwise get to). But there’s also a stack of reading that falls into the guilty pleasures category if you’re in grad school: novels that bear no relation to your academic work. Magazines. Newspapers. Yum.

Sometimes I forget that as a graduate student, it’s ok to read all day long. I must admit, I’m not always very good at it. I feel like a lot of my day goes to administration, email writing, and general out-in-the-world life stuff. I’m not always very good at slowing down for long enough to sit and absorb words on a page.

Fall’s arrival, however, may be just the push I need to slow down and spend some quiet time with myself and a few dozen books. And a cup of tea.

And a thick sweater.


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Friday, Friday…

So… Here we are already. Friday! Made it. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve had a good week. I feel like I got some serious work done. I’ve had some fun, too.

I’m actually in Toronto at the moment. It’s a beautiful, crispy fall day here — warm in the sun, cool in the shade, with fresh-smelling air and trees just hinting at imminent colour-change.

Because I still have work to do, I’ve plunked myself down at the Bloor-Gladstone library — a big old edifice on Bloor St. near Dufferin. Because I grew up not far from here, this is one of the libraries where I used to come as a child. We used to come and hang out in the basement, where they stocked the kids books. Eventually, we graduated upstairs, to the ‘grown-up’ books.

I’m sitting upstairs now, but this ain’t the library of my youth. It’s been completely renovated — though I’m pleased to say, to amazing effect. In its new incarnation, the library is bright and airy. I am sitting in a giant, comfy chair equipped with a little lap-top sized table. All around me, people are busily working on their computers, reading, and generally sharing in the special kind of communal productivity one finds at a library.

Here’s a hilarious article from NOW Magazine (Toronto’s free weekly) about the renovations:

And after working at a university library for so long, it’s interesting to be back at a public one. I’m fascinated by the diversity of this audience. I love that high school kids are doing homework, and old people are learning how to use the internet. There are lots of different faces here – all colours, all ages, all levels of income. All sharing a single space that’s dedicated to information.

It’s been interesting, too, to revisit a place that was once really familiar, only to find it completely changed. In many ways, of course, I have changed too. The young me who used to sit amongst the kids books is long gone. Who would of imagined, then, that I’d be a graduate student at Queen’s? Heck, the young me probably won’t even be able to fathom that I’d ever been in my mid-thirties, plunking out text on a laptop, accessing anything I want thanks to a crazy device called the Internet.

Yep, times have changed. I have too. It’s been interesting to hang out in a space that’s a physical embodiment of those changes…

Happy weekending!


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Monday, monday

Does anyone remember the old song by the Mamas and the Papas called “Monday, Monday”? It starts out with a lot of Ba-da ba-da-da-da Ba-da ba-da-da-da Ba-daba-da-da-da…” It’s the tune that’s been spinning through my head this morning. Monday.

The song’s second verse starts with “Monday, monday… can’t trust that day..” It’s a sentiment that is shared by more than a few people, I think.

Monday is complicated. It’s fraught with responsibility and weight. In some ways, there is something refreshing about Monday: it’s full of possibilities. It dares you to wake up with bright eyes and set the tone for your week.

On the other hand, it also invites anxiety to set in after you realize how much you didn’t accomplish over the weekend, and how behind you already are.

That’s why today my friend (a fellow graduate student) and I established a new Monday morning ritual. We’ve decided to start meeting for coffee on Monday morning at a good, early hour, in order to properly establish a tone for the week. It is (and please excuse my new-age cheesiness here) an opportunity to set an ‘intention’ for the week.

For example: this week I need to write a proposal for my new thesis project. I also need to finish reading Judith Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’ for the class I am auditing (that’s for tomorrow), and then start in on next week’s book. I need to write a couple of articles for the School of Graduate Studies website. I also really really need to do laundry.

I declared some of these things to my friend (I forgot to mention the laundry – but now you all know), and he declared his weeks’ intentions to me (we also discussed our respective weekends, and whined about other things, too).

I think we’ve both decided that there in declaring what we have to get done to another person, we become sublty accountable to them. Next week, over Monday-morning coffee, that other person will check in and ask ” so? did you get it all done?”… and if we haven’t done it, we’ll feel sheepish (or at least that’s the idea).

Until now, I haven’t liked the way my Monday morning have been unfolding. I resent starting the day by checking email and getting all anxious about the stuff I need to do. Starting the week with a friend and a conversation seems to me like a far more human – and helpful – way to launch into it.

Here’s to a productive week!


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