Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Death by a thousand pinpricks.

Academic writing and I don't get along very well, so I'm starting to think.

I've been chipping away at Round 8,442,930 of thesis revisions, and things are not going well. I synthesized three professors' worth of advice — mostly along the lines of evaluating where commas go, making sure my sentences don't run on, that sort of thing — and (I thought) whipped my Literature Review chapter into shape. I even added some neat ideas, completely in line with my research questions, at the suggestion of one of my supervisors: a nice study in which, strangely enough, someone else actually talked to teachers and asked their opinion on how things are going.

Well, even with three profs making their copious suggestions, apparently I still don't know how to write. Even though the majority of the things that were pointed out to me today were of the "take out the phrase 'a set of' here" variety, my main supervisor says there are still "big style issues."

I think part of the problem is that I don't really pay that close attention to the style of writing when I'm reading research journals; I'm more just interested in the information they contain.* Also, I haven't quite worked out the sort of authority I, as a lowly master's student, have when it comes to saying something in a paper. I get the impression I have to qualify every little claim I make, but then my supervisor tells me not to bother; then, in other places, I haven't explained myself enough, so I have to elaborate. The end result is that I have to go over this whole thing about eight times over, and after about the third you'll probably be ready to quit.

That's in sharp contrast to pretty much every other paper I've written for a course. Ah, those were the days... you blast something off, hand it in, brush off your hands and wait for a mark. (I confess, there were a few papers I wrote — for grad courses, no less — which I didn't even read all the way through after printing them off, and I seem to have done alright in those.) This is different, though. The stakes are much higher, and there are multiple profs just waiting to pounce on you.

I don't know. Maybe this will eventually make me a better writer, make me more thoroughly understand the points I'm trying to convey, make me an aristocrat who uses a cigarette-holder and says phrases like "jolly-good" and "the data clearly show blah-blah-blah" and so on. But for now, this fucking sucks.

* This is a very strange thing for me to say, given that I come from the school of "it's not what you say, it's how you say it." I'm all about being articulate and polished, but seriously, some of these academic type folk are obsessed.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The calm before the storm.

There are only a few days before the beginning of the school year and I, for one, am looking forward to it.

Perhaps the best thing about this upcoming year is that I'm back in my old desk in the Science office. It's in the perfect place where I can hide from students at the office's door, where I can lean back a bit and put my feet up on my desk after a long, stupid day. I'm also right next to the video collection, so if you want a boring, dated film talking about symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legume roots, I'm your man.

(The first six minutes of that are bearable. After that, I sorta want to jab my eyes out with a set of crucible tongs.)

(Remember crucible tongs? Of course you do.)

The floors are buffed and shiny, the desks have been ridded of graffiti, the blackboards are black (we're not fancy enough to have whiteboards), and people are still generally in relaxed summer mode. That disappears around mid-September, of course, as the kids realize just how far they have to push before they break you like a metre stick.

(I don't know if I even have a breaking-point; I'm more a "roll with the punches" kind of guy. For example, when I was supplying back in June, I caught some kid copying an assignment pretty blatantly, and she called me an asshole for taking it away from her. I had to laugh: how often do we get called that to our faces? Not often. Besides, I wasn't the one performing outright plagiarism at the time.)

So, in conclusion, bring on the new school year. My Kevlar vest* came in on Monday, so I'm ready.

* I do teach in Scarborough, but hey, c'mon. We don't wear these.**
** Unless it's Tater Tot Tuesday. Then things can get a little out-of-hand.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

This city smells terrible.

When I was a kid, our family would come to Toronto about once a summer, stay overnight in a hotel, and do touristy things like go to Canada's Wonderland, see a baseball game at SkyDome, and ride the subway. (Hey, when your town has less than 300 people in it, that's a novelty.)

I recall one year we stayed at a hotel just north of Nathan Phillips Square, right close to Chinatown. As we walked the streets, I remember being absolutely repulsed at the odour that hung in the air — it seemed like a mixture of hot garbage and rotting carcasses of some sort, with a hint of honey. I'd never smelled anything like that, and was amazed that such an odour could even exist.

Tonight I visited my friend Dave, who lives near Bloor and Christie. He flipped out a bit and decided to go to various Central American countries for most of July and August, and just got back a couple of days ago. ("Before going to sleep last night I'd spent the previous 36 hours awake, in which I got drunk twice," he recalled.) It's good to have him back, and not just because he brought me some delicious dark Nicaraguan rum, with which I will soon build myself a lovely drink.

However, while driving along Bloor through Little Korea, an unbelievably putrid stench wafted in through my windows. It was different than the Chinatown Monstrosity of my youth, but no less pungent; it took a good three blocks with windows fully in the "down" position to get it out of my car.

My question is, What the hell is with these parts of town and ridiculous odours? And, am I just being culturally-insensitive by pointing this out? This doesn't seem to happen in Little Italy or Gerrard Street East or my part of town... but take a walk down Spadina between College and Queen any night of the week, and you're bound to get knocked sideways by the smell.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I need my space.

I don't mean relationshipwise, and I don't mean my neglected MySpace page.

I'm talking about spaces before and after dashes. Specifically, how the APA is way off base, and so are my thesis advisor-type-people.

To me, it looks much nicer if dashes have spaces around them — like this — as to give them a little bit of breathing-room. It looks nice, it looks balanced.

Instead, though, the freaks over there at APA want you to jam it all together—like this—and screw the consequences. Everything is all mashed in together, and it looks wrong wrong wrong.

But, apparently I don't know shit about shit, so I'll go along with their little dog-and-pony show.

Holy crap, it's late. I wish my peak productivity hours weren't so bloody "wee."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Your iBook/PowerBook battery might need replacing.

I was watching the news tonight, and on the heels of Dell recalling a bunch of their laptop batteries, Apple has decided to recall a bunch of theirs, on iBooks and PowerBooks from October 2003 through August 2006.

Head on over here to see if your battery is recalled. Mine sure is!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Set your VCRs!

Other people still have VCRs, right? People haven't all switched to recordable Blu-Ray High-Definition DVD Minidisc Laserdisc discs, have they?

Anyhoo, assuming you have a VCR — or you're planning on being awake and coherent at 11:30 tonight (12:30 am on CTV, if you don't have cable) — be aware that Damian Kulash from OK Go, everybody's favourite amateur dancers, will be on the Colbert Report tonight. I'm not sure in what capacity this will be (I don't think it'll be in the last act, as the interview segment is apparently scheduled for someone named Gideon Yago), but Damian's a pretty neat guy, so I'm sure he'll make it worth your while.

In other fake-news news, I laughed my ass off a couple of nights ago when Reza Aslan was asked by Jon Stewart to rate how the Middle East is faring these days, on a scale from "fucked" to "fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked". Aslan, having noticed that, earlier on that evening's show, Samuel L. Jackson dropped a ton of m-f-bombs in a fake interview in a piece done by Samantha Bee, responded, "You know, I'd be tempted to say it's 'motherfucked'."

There's this, too.

It don't get no better than this.

(Let's just hope the SI "cover jinx" doesn't apply anymore.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Congratulations, boys.

The Tigers' current series with the White Sox is, despite Jim Leyland's protestations, a huge one. Given both teams' recent difficulties — Detroit's pitching has been stellar, but the bats have gone quiet; Chicago's had some surprisingly tough opponents lately — it has been suggested that whoever wins this series will win the AL Central, which is probably the strongest division, overall, in baseball... and steal some important momentum. After all, last weekend the Sox swept the Tigers in three straight frustrating games in Chicago, including a shutout by the recently-hittable Jose Contreras.

So, what have the Detroiters done? Their starting pitching has given up exactly one (1) run in the first two games of this series, with stunning outings from Justin Verlander and Kenny Rogers. The bats came alive Monday night with seven runs, knocking Contreras out early, and even though they only scored four tonight, it was nice to see Marcus Thames club a homer, given his recent struggles at the plate. Even Fernando "Whoops, did I just give up a crucial home run?" Rodney had a solid two innings tonight, deftly escaping harm in the eighth by inducing three outs on two pitches.

Plus, Comerica Park has been jam-packed for these games; you can hear the place going nuts even over the radio broadcasts. As someone on recently remarked, "Would you want to go into Detroit with forty thousand delirious fans for a playoff game? I wouldn't, either." (ALDS tickets go on sale September 19, and if I can get one for a weekend game, I would give at least one of my arms to go.)

In conclusion, today they won their 81st game of the season, which means they're now assured of their first non-sub-.500 season since 1993. Even if they play mediocre baseball from here on out, they'll win a hundred games. It sure will be a far cry from that dismal late-September day in 2003 when my buddy Geoff and I had upper-deck seats in Comerica Park for the last day of the season, watching the Tigers play (and eventually defeat) the Twins as not to tie the 1962 Mets' record of 120 losses in a season. Simply amazing.

Oh yeah, and in other news the thesis revisions are going well, I have a hot date lined up, and I'm so strong that I managed to break my bedroom's blinds in two just by pulling on them. (Two of these things are true: try to guess which one isn't! I'll give you a hint... it's not what you think it is.)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Friday the 13th is a great damn day.

My parents got engaged on Friday, December 13, 1968.

My niece was born on Friday, May 13, 2005.

And now... Friday, October 13: LEWIS BLACK, LIVE AT MASSEY HALL.

"Get your friggin' tickets, you idiots!"

Saturday, August 19, 2006

I don't know who all these people are.

...that is, the people who buy all these albums these days.

I was flipping through this week's Rolling Stone — probably the best issue of it that I've ever read, including articles about the man who threw the '04 election in Ohio running for its governor in '06, a profile of Bill Maher, the chilling Gitmo tales of Omar Khadr, and extended interviews with Joe Walsh and Kurt Vonnegut (!) — and I came to the Billboard Top 40 album charts on the last page.

As I am wont to do, I scanned the top few albums... and yet again, I have no idea who would ever buy any of this shit. I'll go through the top ten; rest assured the other thirty are just as mysterious.

#1: LeToya — LeToya
Apparently she was in Destiny's Child; I didn't care for that group's crooning, and I doubt I'd care for LeToya's.

#2: Now 22 (compilation)
All the greatest hits (misses?) of all the other albums on the chart. I guess if you're going to listen to crap, it might as well the best crap of the charts.

#3: Pharrell — In My Mind
Shouldn't this guy be producing albums instead of doing whatever he's doing on this one?

#4: Tom Petty — Highway Companion
This is probably the only album of the entire top 40 that I'd consdier buying. It's sad that I'm making that claim about a guy who closely ressembles Skeletor.

#5: Gnarls Barkley — St. Elsewhere
Six bucks says Cee-Lo is hanging out with Lou Bega eighteen months from now; "Crazy" is 2006's "Mambo #5," which is mysteriously where this album is.

#6: High School Musical (OST)
It's the soundtrack of a Disney movie. Just typing that made me break out in a case of the heebie-jeebies.

#7: Rihanna — A Girl Like Me
I had no idea who this was, so I looked her up on She's foxy, for sure... but any bio of an artist that draws any sort of comparison to the song "Gasolina" has gotta make you suspicious.

#8: Nelly Furtado — Loose
She was hotter when she was the nice, olive-skinned girl-next-door. But now she's slutting herself out there like the second coming of Pamela Des Barres.

#9: The Pussycat Dolls — PCD
I've had the misfortune of hearing their big song, "Don't Cha", sometime in the past few months. I think I was at a bar or club with a dance floor, and I seem to recall actually being on that dance floor. (Where the hell was this?! Damn, I have this hazy memory and can't pin it down. Oh well, it'll come to me.) Someone explained the premise of this "group" to me a while ago, and it still seems stupid. They're strippers... big deal! I've seen strippers before, and I bet most of them can carry a tune better than these clowns, even while holding a 18-foot boa constrictor and shimmying their G-stringed posterior to Ram Jam's "Black Betty".

(Oh! I remember where I was... at my buddy's wedding reception.)

(And Elena, that "Black Betty" reference was for you. You're welcome.)

#10: Rascal Flatts — Me and My Gang
This homogenized, sanitized, "Kelly Clarkson tunes with a slide guitar" pop-country thing has got to stop. As far as I'm concerned, the last country music artist alive is George "No-Show" Jones, so nicknamed in the late '70s due to his propensity for being so high and/or drunk he didn't/couldn't take the stage. Now that's country!

In conclusion, I fear for the youth of tomorrow. I shall use my classroom pulpit to spread the Gospel of the Holy Trinity of Rock: Zeppelin, Floyd and the Beatles.

Amen, and may God/Jehovah/Allah/Ganesh/Buddha/Chuck Norris have mercy on our ears.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Don't think, just "learn."

In this era of sanitized, corporate journalism (which wouldn't know "the truth" if it hit them upside the head with a sackful of doorknobs), ZNet shines out like a beacon, giving you the actual story. Sure, there are a lot of kooky people who write stuff for them... but in amongst the kookiness, there are plenty of stories which fly under the mainstream radar, or fly in the face of what we all believe to be true, that are worth knowing about.

As such, I subscribe to ZNet Commentary, a daily email highlighting a story or an angle that you wouldn't hear anywhere else. Money well spent, I say (Z relies on donations to keep bringin' the goods, so it has no corporate overlords to censor them). A recent story caught my attention: in Florida, the state legislature passed a law which says that the history they teach in schools is to be "viewed as factual, not as constructed."


Really? Seriously? Don't think about any other perspectives on this... if we say the Europeans came and gently assumed control of North America while the Natives applauded them all the way, students can't question that? If those dirty labour activists in the 1930s are described in the curriculum as "homegrown terrorists who hate free markets," you can't take an opposing viewpoint?

"History is written by the winners," so the saying goes. But, as Kurosawa's film Rashomon clearly shows, there are often many perspectives on the same events, and your view is built from the information you have... but that may not always be what actually happened.

Scary stuff. Read the whole article here.

I have to include all the header information if I forward a ZNet Commentary to a friend via email; I figured I should include it here, too.

Sustainers PLEASE note:

--> You can change your email address or cc data or temporarily turn off mail delivery via:

--> If you pass this comment along to others -- periodically but not repeatedly -- please explain that Commentaries are a premium sent to Sustainer Donors of Z/ZNet and that to learn more folks can consult ZNet at

--> Sustainer Forums Login:

Today's commentary:


ZNet Commentary
Constraining history/controlling knowledge August 14, 2006
By Robert Jensen

One way to measure the fears of people in power is by the intensity of their quest for certainty and control over knowledge.

By that standard, the members of the Florida Legislature marked themselves as the folks most terrified of history in the United States when last month they took bold action to become the first state to outlaw historical interpretation in public schools. In other words, Florida has officially replaced the study of history with the imposition of dogma and effectively outlawed critical thinking.

Although U.S. students are typically taught a sanitized version of history in which the inherent superiority and benevolence of the United States is rarely challenged, the social and political changes unleashed in the 1960s have opened up some space for a more honest accounting of our past. But even these few small steps taken by some teachers toward collective critical self-reflection are too much for many Americans to bear.

So, as part of an education bill signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida has declared that "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed." That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as "knowable, teachable and testable."

Florida's lawmakers are not only prescribing a specific view of U.S. history that must be taught (my favorite among the specific commands in the law is the one about instructing students on "the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy"), but are trying to legislate out of existence any ideas to the contrary. They are not just saying that their history is the best history, but that it is beyond interpretation. In fact, the law attempts to suppress discussion of the very idea that history is interpretation.

The fundamental fallacy of the law is in the underlying assumption that "factual" and "constructed" are mutually exclusive in the study of history. There certainly are many facts about history that are widely, and sometimes even unanimously, agreed upon. But how we arrange those facts into a narrative to describe and explain history is clearly a construction, an interpretation. That's the task of historians -- to assess factual assertions about the past, weave them together in a coherent narrative, and construct an explanation of how and why things happened.

For example, it's a fact that Europeans began coming in significant numbers to North America in the 17th century. Were they peaceful settlers or aggressive invaders? That's interpretation, a construction of the facts into a narrative with an argument for one particular way to understand those facts.

It's also a fact that once those Europeans came, the indigenous people died in large numbers. Was that an act of genocide? Whatever one's answer, it will be an interpretation, a construction of the facts to support or reject that conclusion.

In contemporary history, has U.S. intervention in the Middle East been aimed at supporting democracy or controlling the region's crucial energy resources? Would anyone in a free society want students to be taught that there is only one way to construct an answer to that question?

Speaking of contemporary history, what about the fact that before the 2000 presidential election, Florida's Republican secretary of state removed 57,700 names from the voter rolls, supposedly because they were convicted felons and not eligible to vote. It's a fact that at least 90 percent were not criminals -- but were African American. It's a fact that black people vote overwhelmingly Democratic. What conclusion will historians construct from those facts about how and why that happened? (

In other words, history is always constructed, no matter how much Florida's elected representatives might resist the notion. The real question is: How effectively can one defend one's construction? If Florida legislators felt the need to write a law to eliminate the possibility of that question even being asked, perhaps it says something about their faith in their own view and ability to defend it.

One of the bedrock claims of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment -- two movements that, to date, have not been repealed by the Florida Legislature -- is that no interpretation or theory is beyond challenge. The evidence and logic on which all knowledge claims are based must be transparent, open to examination. We must be able to understand and critique the basis for any particular construction of knowledge, which requires that we understand how knowledge is constructed.

Except in Florida.

But as tempting as it is to ridicule, we should not spend too much time poking fun at this one state, because the law represents a yearning one can find across the United States. Americans look out at a wider world in which more and more people reject the idea of the United States as always right, always better, always moral. As the gap between how Americans see themselves and how the world sees us grows, the instinct for many is to eliminate intellectual challenges at home: "We can't control what the rest of the world thinks, but we can make sure our kids aren't exposed to such nonsense."

The irony is that such a law is precisely what one would expect in a totalitarian society, where governments claim the right to declare certain things to be true, no matter what the debates over evidence and interpretation. The preferred adjective in the United States for this is "Stalinist," a system to which U.S. policymakers were opposed during the Cold War. At least, that's what I learned in history class.

People assume that these kinds of buffoonish actions are rooted in the arrogance and ignorance of Americans, and there certainly are excesses of both in the United States.

But the Florida law -- and the more widespread political mindset it reflects -- also has its roots in fear. A track record of relatively successful domination around the world seems to have produced in Americans a fear of any lessening of that dominance. Although U.S. military power is unparalleled in world history, we can't completely dictate the shape of the world or the course of events. Rather than examining the complexity of the world and expanding the scope of one's inquiry, the instinct of some is to narrow the inquiry and assert as much control as possible to avoid difficult and potentially painful challenges to orthodoxy.

Is history "knowable, teachable and testable"? Certainly people can work hard to know -- to develop interpretations of processes and events in history and to understand competing interpretations. We can teach about those views. And students can be tested on their understanding of conflicting constructions of history.

But the real test is whether Americans can come to terms with not only the grand triumphs but also the profound failures of our history. At stake in that test is not just a grade in a class, but our collective future.

Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center He is the author of The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege and Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (both from City Lights Books). He can be reached at

OK Go just keeps on a-comin'.

Remember back in February when I saw OK Go at the Grad Club, chatted up the very personable Damian Kulash, and watched them do the awesome dance from their homemade video for "A Million Ways"?

Well, the boys have been at it again — witness their latest homemade concoction. Four words: Rock stars on treadmills. Go here to find the video for "Here It Goes Again".

(Thanks for the tip, Eve.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Allow me to allay your fears.

A buddy of mine told me today, "Dude, your blog is pretty melancholy lately. Are you alright?"

Let me assure you that I am doing quite fine, recent thesis-related events notwithstanding. I am in relatively good health (my recent bouts with "the Syph," polio and the Black Plague seem to have abated), I'm becoming more deeply immersed in the genius that is Chappelle's Show by the day (the mere premise of having a character named "Ashy Larry" defies all logic, and hilariously so), and while I do not have any faith whatsoever in my car being able to survive without a costly incident in the next few months, I managed to take care of a couple of dashboard warning-lights this past weekend (without resorting to just covering the lights with a strip of black electrical tape, which a friend of mine has done).

(By the way, would anyone be interested in buying a 2000 Pontiac Sunfire, black, 2-door, A/C, automatic, 147000 km, relatively new tires and brakes, in very good condition? If so, let's talk.)

When I'm down in the dumps and feeling sorry for myself — maybe I got rejected by a lady, or my thesis supervisor poured sugar in my gas tank, or my latest order of Franklin Mint souvenir gravy boats is on back-order — I try to snap things into perspective by considering the following tidbits of information:
  • My family is in reasonably good health.
  • I am relatively debt-free; the amount I do have, I've planned to be out of within a year.
  • I live in the greatest country in the world.
  • I have had one easy goddamn life in comparison to a lot of my students.
  • The songs of Blue Öyster Cult are still in heavy rotation on many classic rock stations.
...and so on. Usually the mopiness ends with me telling myself, "C'mon, J, snap out of it. Your life is just about as cushy as anyone's could ever be. Whatever problems you have are so fucking petty in comparison to a lot of other peoples', they aren't even worth mentioning. So, stop with all this bullshit and suck it up, Princess."

Perspective, folks. That's all it takes sometimes. Don't worry about me; I'm alright.

Monday, August 14, 2006

All I need now are the TPS reports.

Do you remember that scene in Office Space, right at the beginning, where Peter is sitting in his cubicle and countless people bitch him out for forgetting the new cover sheets on the TPS reports?

Currently sitting on my dining room table are 2.5 entire copies of my thesis, 133 pages apiece, with 2.5 peoples' detailed descriptions about where I've fucked up. Add to this a point-form summary of a phone conversation my advisor had with another examining professor, who had some choice words generally describing how I suck which nicely provide an air of gratuitous underachievement to the whole process, and suddenly I become Peter Gibbons incarnate.

(A side-dish of Jennifer Aniston would be nice, though. Y'know, to make the movie analogy complete.)

I bet you thought I was dead.

...or, at the very least, trapped under something heavy. But, fear not, JTLketeers — all five of you — 'twas just a little excursion to the great rural southwest of Ontario which lasted longer than I'd originally planned. And hey, I got to see my niece take three consecutive, unassisted steps! Twice! That's pretty exciting. What a kid.

I'm starting to wonder if every single (i.e., unmarried) male 28 or older gets bombarded with the "well, don't worry, you'll find a nice girl" shtick. For fuck's sakes, even my sweet, small-town grandma's in on the chorus.

Then again, I guess she's just looking out for me.

...her only unmarried grandson (and also grandchild; there were no granddaughters) out of us four.


Well, in my defence, I'm the youngest, and went away, and spent a lot of years in school, the whole bit. "People in cities have their lives on different schedules," blah blah blah. You know the drill (well, I do, anyway). I can't seem to shake this malaise brought-upon by my singledom, and I know that, as long as it's hanging ominously over my head, I'm never going to get anywhere.

But, minds have a way of playing tricks on you: if someone says, "Don't think about peanut butter," your mind can't help but think about peanut butter. So, when you're walking around, minding your own business, and all you see are beautiful women — there were even some at a baseball tournament I briefly visited in Inwood this weekend, for chrissakes... when the hell did this happen? Inwood has ladies?! They must be imports from places like Aberfeldy, Sutorville and Camlachie — you can't help but re-realize your own status.

Normally, this doesn't bother me too much... but lately it's really been getting under my skin, and I don't know why. Maybe because I'm back in Toronto but haven't had the time (or money, or runnin'-crew) to do much socializing, or maybe because another friend of mine just got married (with another one newly-engaged), or maybe I'm just anxious about my thesis non-defence this week (being pushed back to September), or maybe I'm really advanced for my age and am having my mid-life crisis at 28.

Or maybe I just think too much.

Shit, this sucks.

PS: See the movie Waiting.... It's good. Very good.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Go see film.

When you're having an absolute shit-day — and I assure you, I am — nothing cures you like a little reality TV coming out of a former Soviet-bloc country.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan... trailer here.

"Please, you come see my film. If it not success, I will be execute."

Okay, Borat. Deal.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The student-teacher barrier.

I've come to the conclusion that, for the upcoming year, and perhaps beyond, my teaching-attire is going to be strictly jeans-and-sneakers. (I like the stuff Dave Chappelle wore while hosting his show; perhaps my shirts won't be as loud, but that's the basic idea.)

In my previous four-year teaching stint, I'd usually wear a button-down shirt and khakis — no ties, except on Hallowe'en when I'd dress up "like a teacher" — and occasionally, maybe once a week, wear jeans and sneakers. On the days that I did, I felt lighter and bouncier and friendlier; when you're dealing with upwards of 70 ridiculous teenagers a day, that's a good mood in which to be, I've found.

When I supply-taught this past May and June, I dressed-down every day, and it didn't even feel like going to "work," really. (Mind you, being a supply-teacher with no lesson-planning and no marking leaves you with a substantially easier job, with much shorter hours, than a regular, daily-grind type of gig. Still, though, it felt nice.)

Now, contrast this with the other side of my life lately: being a grad student at Queen's. I indulged in your standard student-type behaviour that I largely missed at UW (it helps being around undergraduates), and really enjoyed my time there, recent thesis-related fiascos notwithstanding. As such, I've had a page on the ubiquitous Facebook for about a year; for those not familiar with it, it's a social-networking site, showing who knows who, and from where, and what you're doing this summer, and what bands you like, and so on. (Hey, c'mon, everyone I knew was doing it, too.)

That website has encouraged the mixture of my teacher-life and my student-life: I have ex-students of mine (who are now university students themselves) listed as acquaintances on Facebook, and vice-versa. This is a confluence that, I imagine, not too many educators experience; they teach their kids, their kids go away, and they never see them again. It's a shame, though, because some of these kids are really interesting people, and will turn out to be great adults.

In small towns such as the one in which I grew up, it's a lot more commonplace to run into your old teachers (or, in my case, have one as your aunt). In cities, with people to'ing-and-fro'ing all over the place, it's less so; I live in midtown Toronto but work in Scarborough, and there are several hundred thousand people living between those two places. As such, the demarcation between professional and personal life is very clear, both metaphorically and geograpically.

...which brings me back to jeans-and-sneakers: it's the attire in which I feel most like myself. It's a lot of work, having two personae — Teacher-J and Regular-J, if you will — and, after having given both of them a whirl in the classroom, I feel like the kids respond better to the latter. (After all, Teacher-J is just an answer-box with legs and arms, and Regular-J is a person. Since real learning doesn't take place without a trusting relationship, and relationships are between people, which do you think works best?) So, if Levi Strauss and Hank Adidas make me feel more like me, and that's good for the kids, why not ditch the khakis?

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Obviously, this piece of writing was prompted by a comment received yesterday (the third one) on my previous post. This comment got me thinking — not just because I had no idea anyone in the M.Ed. program read this thing (aside from my CFRC Tuesday Indie Wake-up Call co-host Lindsay, occasionally... oh, the memories!), but because it's been a long time since I've even thought about crushes.

They seem so quaint and high-school-ish, don't they? There's Sally over there (or Billy, as the case may be), so dreamy and perfect... you hold them on a pedestal of sorts, and can barely talk to them because of it. You don't quite see them as human; wherever they go, wherever you see them, they have this angelic glow about them.

Let's stop talking in vague generalities, though. For the first four years of my high school career, there was this girl, "Melissa," who absolutely drove me crazy. I remember in Grade 10, when we were watching a movie in class, she sat in the desk behind me and put her foot up on the book-basket underneath my chair, and thinking that that was so ridiculously awesome: Does this mean she likes me back?

(I was a pretty pathetic high-schooler, alright? Jesus Christ, give me a break here.)

When Grade 12 rolled around, I had a spare first-period in first semester. And so did Melissa. We spent the first three days shooting the bull, hanging out, having a great time; I was on Cloud Nine. Yup, things were finally going the J-man's way.

But then, in the first week of school, our teachers went on strike for nearly seven weeks. Because Melissa was really academically gung-ho, and her parents owned some property in the next town over, which was in another school board (which wasn't on strike), she transferred to that other school, and stayed there for the rest of Grade 12 and OAC.

And there I was, crestfallen, all alone in my first-period spare for the rest of the semester.

I've seen Melissa now and again since high school; we've had dinner a few times. She lives in Toronto, but is really busy with her career and her long-term boyfriend. I've been over the crush for quite a few years now; I eventually realized that she and I are very different people, with exceedingly different tastes and lifestyles.

Still, though, for those three-plus years in high school, I couldn't think straight when she was around. It was torturous and glorious at the same time.

I have no idea what the moral of this story is, or if there's a moral at all. Maybe it's just a bunch of stuff that happened, and I'll leave it at that.

Oh! I know what I wanted to say about crushes.

The thing about Melissa is that, as far as I can tell, she had no idea I liked her in high school. (If she did, then she didn't act on it... then again, she always seemed to have a boyfriend, always from another school.) So, what good did this crush serve? Absolutely none, unless you consider my brain turning to Jell-O every time she was within a 15-foot radius of me a "good" thing.

So, what good is it that someone, after the fact, after you've left town, tells you that they liked you? Sure, it's a nice boost to the ego — and I thank you for that, I really do, mystery-reader — but, what am I supposed to do with this information now (especially since it's anonymous)?


Actually... I guess it could help me realize that, for some people out there, I'm actually somewhat crushworthy.

...wait a second. Really? Me?



Thursday, August 03, 2006

Musings on matrimony.

First off, let me say how glorious this feels: it's 23 degrees out now, and a delicious breeze is blowing in through my window. It don't get no better than this.

(Well, except that time at that Tijuana whorehosue where we had three pounds of crystal meth, a dozen live lobsters, and a pair of ping-pong paddles. Now that was a good time. But this is good, too, I guess.)

Secondly, if you're going to be in Toronto on Friday, August 11th, and you missed their Lee's Palace show, Khaki Snack will be playing at a place called O'Grady's (on College between University and St. George, right across the street from UofT). It should be a rip-roarin' great time.

(Isn't there some kind of rule that says you can only have one apostrophe in a word? "O'Grady's" just looks... I dunno... wrong.)

But alas, my main reason for writing tonight is to fulfill a promise I made a few days ago, to fill you in on marriage and late-twentysomethingness.

Here's the deal: my parents know that I've led sort of a nomadic life thus far... the UW co-op experience, then settling for four years in Toronto as a teacher, then heading down the road for two more as a grad student, and now back to Toronto for the forseeable future. They've never asked me about my love-life (and I've never told them about anyone I'd been dating until well after the fact).

But this past weekend, when I visited them following my buddy Paul's wedding, I could sense mom was mentally dancing around a question for a while. Then she asked it: "So, are you seeing anybody?"

I replied in the negative, and gave some sort of excuse like, "Well, I've been busy, and I just moved back to Toronto." Is it valid? Maybe, maybe not; at any rate, the question was put to bed fairly quickly and without incident.

Still, though, it's on her mind: "My kid is 28, almost 29, and he's still single? What the hell is going on?" Granted, in small-town Ontario, people tend to marry earlier; hell, at my 10-year high school reunion a couple of years ago, there were tons of people with kids around, some as old as 5 or 6. Perhaps not coincidentally, most of us who were still unmarried were those who went away to school and/or live in a big city.

Maybe my mom's question was mere idle curiosity, maybe not; last time I checked, I'm no psychoanalyst. Still, though, it's thrown me into a really reflective and pensive mood lately, and I'm not quite sure how to get out of it.