Thursday, December 30, 2010

What is "Literature"?

Today, after working out with Andy at Hart House, I decided to go to Indigo at Bay/Bloor to see if they had anything good for their boxing week sale. It turned out that they were offering 30% off all hardcover books. I started wandering around the shop, looking for a hardcover book I would be interested in.

Thirty minutes later I was starting to feel severely disappointed. I'd searched the whole bookstore, from the Fiction sections to the Ideas section, but no -- as huge as the bookstore was, apparently no one had ever felt the need to add an LGBT section. This is despite there being books on religion and self-help and poetry and philosophy and psychology and current news and fashion and beauty and sports and alternative health (saw a bodybuilder-type person on one of their covers) and Asian Cooking.

Not that I should've had much hope for LGBT literature being in a mainstream bookstore to begin with, but come on. It seems like this systematic alienation of LGBT youth and adults will never end. I did stop by the sexuality section and typically, it was mostly straight vanilla stuff, all girls with lipstick and stereotypical imagery, aimed towards people who have no experience nor training in these fields at all. I saw one or two gay/lesbian books. Something hit me at that moment. I started to wonder whether it is appropriate to even define something as vague as "literature".

People will say, "I study English literature". "I love literature." But really, is "literature" just another socially regulated category, some elite group of books that have been deemed socially acceptable? Ideally, what good "literature" is should be based on solely the quality of the writing and language and ideas. But this is never really the case, and claiming that literature is everything that's "good writing" completely ignores other factors that people use to define and delineate what good literature is, such as the author's existing fame or lack thereof, the author's cultural background, the readers' cultural backgrounds, or even luck. If someone today wrote an extremely well-written book with evocative and new language and intricate and innovative ideas, would it be noticed if the subject of the book was BDSM? Or would the inclusion of BDSM automatically banish it to the realm of "alternative reading"?

Or, worse, would it be censored, suppressed, erased from the face of the earth? In UNI255 I watched a film I watched called Little Sister's vs. Big Brother, which detailed the legal battles of a bookstore (Little Sister's) to stop the censorship and seizing of gay and lesbian materials, including s/m materials, by the government (via Canada Customs). I distinctly remember one participant in the movie who said that the government was in fact speeding up the disappearance of a literature: many the authors who'd written the books had died from AIDS and the seizing of the materials precipitated their being unnoticed and forgotten.

This leads me to a personal conundrum which I have never been able to resolve. Is the whole process of delineating what 'good art' problematic? But if the concept of high literature did not exist could we ever separate what is wonderfully or inventively expressed to what is clumsily written?

After my adventure at the bookstore I popped into Calvin Klein to see if they had any nice underwear on Boxing Day sale. While I was looking through their racks a masculine-looking gay man was speaking to the sales clerks and was telling them that he went with this underwear instead of that underwear because that underwear he'd seen on people who are "really gay".

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Two Should Not Be the Magic Number

A few weeks ago, I made the mistake of dating someone who had different views towards sex as the ones I hold. The person in question had told me that he was "open" about sex, but I should have clarified what "open" meant.

I hate it when people use words like "slut", "dirty", and (especially) "perverted". These words are used to regulate sexuality, and to classify - as Gayle Rubin described - what is good sexual behaviour and what is bad sexual behaviour according to our society. Promiscuous people are labelled "sluts" and pornography and sadomasochism are "perversions". Words like these perpetuate the shame that people feel towards sexual desires and acts, and it is this shame that deters people from exploring such a core part of themselves.

I truly believe sex and sexuality in all forms are beautiful and fascinating - and perhaps the most intimate and deepest to connect with anyone. And from now on, I refuse to date anyone who does not understand my philosophy towards sexuality. I'm tired of explaining myself and tired of feeling ashamed for something I should not feel ashamed of.

Some may say I am setting myself up for a life of solitude. I am aware that my dating pool is limited. I am gay, so I already have a smaller dating pool than most. But you know what? Some things are more important than couplehood. I will not have a relationship for the sake of having a relationship. I am sick and tired of discrimination based on sexuality and I have made it my life's goal to fight it. And if someone takes that battle away from me, I'll no longer have a reason to exist. If this means I'll be hard-pressed to find someone willing to accommodate me, so be it.

"But won't you get lonely when you grow older?" I know what you're getting at: but what is love, anyway? The word itself is so fraught and conflated with meanings. Yet we always seem to think of it as the pinnacle and centre of our exciting lives. Love this, love that, love hurts, love creates jealousy, love sucks. Why does two have to be the magic number? (Why not three? Why not one?) I feel obliged here to quote Shakespeare:
Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no. It is an ever-fixéd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
Love is everlasting. That's all that matters. I have this love -- and I don't need couplehood to provide it, and I don't need to change my views on sexuality for it to appear.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


At times, I'm so filled with self-doubt. I cannot help but look upon what I've written and feel that it's crap. I want to change it but I don't know how. I don't have the ability or the ear or the power. I feel like I'm deluding myself for even dreaming to be a writer.

And even if I do become a writer, who will read me? The world is so huge, and there are so many people who will not listen to a thing you say. At the end of the day, how the hell am I ever going to change anything?

Be self-confident! This is what people will tell you. But then they tell you not to be arrogant. That line between self-confidence and arrogance is so hard to maintain that at times I wonder if it even exists. I oscillate between periods of complete insecurity and periods where I'm calm and stable and convinced that I can overcome anything - you tell me where's the line.

This is why I'm doubting. I don't only doubt my ability to be a writer; I doubt my worth as a human being. About a week ago someone said I was arrogant and hateful (this after they also told me I was insecure, dependent, and clueless) and I felt terrible because I felt like these were unworthy parts of me that I have not yet been able to change.

In truth, I am arrogant. I feel like I'm so smart and I feel like I'm oh so wise and I feel like I can actually write well. Am I hateful? Of course. Even after so long, I'm still trying to get some of my personal prejudices ironed out from my thinking. Am I insecure, dependent, clueless? Jesus, you know it.

Then again, sometimes I think that it's futile to describe people using adjectives at all. That's one thing I did not like about psychology - many psychologists seem to simply assume that a static core, if you will, that exists within every human being and fluctuates little over time. You'll see this type of thinking in the general population too. People use them to categorize themselves. "I'm optimistic", people will say. "I'm bubbly." "I'm an introvert." "I ranked 80% on Openness on the Big Five." "I'm an INTJ."

What if phrases like these are not applicable to us at all? In Atwood's Cat's Eye, Elaine's relationship with her best friend Cordelia morphs over time. In their childhood, Cordelia was a bully, a tormentor, yet Cordelia was also a misfit and a dimwit in her father's eyes; in high school, Cordelia was Elaine's best friend, a mischievous girl who was yet sometimes insecure; in their adult lives, Cordelia is sent to a nuthouse. Tellingly, at the beginning of the book when she mentions Cordelia, she then ruminates: "[W]hich Cordelia? The one I have conjured up, the one with the roll-top boots and the turned-up collar, or the one before, or the one after? There is never just one, of anyone."

It's an observation that I've come to believe is true. I used to tell others that I am an INFP, taking pride in the fact that my principal mode of learning was 'iNtuition' and that my way of making decisions depended on my emotions ('feeling'). Today, I know that this is simply a guide and I adopt this identification less readily. I know: I'm still an introvert when it comes to many things. I simply don't like partying very much and at many times, I just want to stay home and listen to music, play games, or read a book. Yet, I can also be extraverted - I've met a lot of people this year and according to some people, I'm almost "socialite". Although I do base a lot of my life decisions on emotions, I also base a lot of them on thinking and logic. I think so much on the subway because I have so much time.

I am introverted, and I am also extraverted. The two aren't mutually exclusive because whether I'm introverted or extraverted depends on situational factors such as the environment I'm in, the time of the day, the people I'm with, my mood, and the other responsibilities on my mind. Similarly, I do depend on my emotions, and I also depend on my logic.

Whether it's because of something they've learned or some chemical doing wonky things with their brains, people change every day. Their reactions to something today might not be their reactions to something tomorrow, or even the next hour. I try to keep that in mind. There are periods of time when some of my friends always seem to drift away from me; there are days when certain friends will act nasty to me. I can't even decipher my best friend sometimes, and we're pretty tight. But I remember that they may be affected by the lack of sleep they'd had the last few days, or their conflicting emotions towards their future careers... and this is how I remind myself to forgive.

Please forgive me, then. I am arrogant, but not every day. I'm dependent. I can be insecure. (But you just said I was arrogant!) I can be hateful. I can be naughty. I can be nice. (Confused, Santa?) Alas, some will still insist on seeing me as one person. If hateful and arrogant come with a label that someone cast onto me after meeting me for two days, I suppose I'll have to deal with that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Course Evaluations: Fall 2010

We've come to the end of the semester. Because it's too late and I'm too tired to do any more studying for today, I'm just going to list some of my thoughts about my courses. By the way, in my rating system 5 represents the average. I don't give pity marks.

Partial Differential Equations - This course turned out as expected, which is to say that I didn't really learn very much. Half of this course was learning about separation of variables and the Fourier Series, which I'd already learned in other classes - Calc II in EngSci, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, Classical Electrodynamics, and Quantum Mechanics. I enjoyed listening to Professor Sulem, and she cracked me up ("You didn't correct me"). Still, she always seemed to underestimate the mathematical prowess of the class: she explained everything in utmost detail and didn't skip any of the obvious steps in the derivations. This lead to a very slow-paced class. In fact, one could mostly ignore the plan that the professor listed at the beginning of every class because almost all of the time, only half of the plan would be covered.

Overall, the class was very easy and the averages for the midterms hovered around the A range. This made the course less stressful, but it wasn't really conducive to learning. Rating: 4/10.

Poetry - I have learned to love this course. Although the professor goes quite slowly and is sometimes too opinionated, I have begun to appreciate her wisdom and the passion that she holds for poetry. Someone on RateMyProfessors says that "Professor Reib
etanz embodies the spirit of poetry", and I am inclined to agree. I loved learning about meter and form am enjoying learning about rhetorical devices. In second semester we're going to be reading Robert Frost and W. B. Yeats in depth and I can't wait to sink my teeth into them.

The course itself has been easy so far. What is not easy for me is reading and interpreting poetry. It's still hard for me to interpret poems and sometimes I stare at a poem for an hour and I still don't really understand it. This course, though, has been a good first step in learning how to think about poetry critically and moreover to appreciate its intricacies. Plus, I can actually recite some of Shakespeare's
sonnets now. Rating for first half of the course: 7/10.

Biography and Autobiography - This was definitely one of my favourite courses this semester. Professor Jackson was very articulate - in fact, I'd probably say she is the most articulate professor that I have ever encountered during my time at UofT. Despite initial doubts, I really enjoyed the class material. I have never really paid much attention to biography as a literary genre; however, after this class I am starting to realize there are many things to in writing a biography. For instance, how is it even possible to represent an entire life well? Inevitably, life details get filtered, selected, twisted, and represented subjectively. Often details are not even accessible. Other interesting questions we considered include, "How are biographies influenced by novels, literary movements, and psychology?" and "How do different biographical models lead to different views of the 'self'?" Rating: 9/10.

Sexuality - To tell you the truth I am slightly disappointed in this course because 1) Professor Rayter's teaching style doesn't really appeal to me, and 2) there was a long section in the middle of the course where we focused on histories of sexuality and that was really boring to me. I was not really interested in reading about how sexuality was used to demarcate colonial power. Notions like "power" still feel too abstract and ill-defined to me. Thankfully, after the boring middle section, things picked up when the class turned to studies of stripteases and the lesbian S/M community.

Still, I'm grateful that I took this course because it's provided me with new ways to think about sexuality, as well as new vocabulary to articulate my thoughts about it. Specifically, I loved the theories section and I especially liked Gayle Rubin's theory of the "Charmed Circle of Sexuality" (see accompanying image: the inner categories, the "charmed circle", represents the sexualities which society unjustly considers good, normal, and blessed; the "outer limits" are considered bad, abnormal, and deviant). I am considering taking more sexual diversities courses next term. Rating: 6/10.

Classical Electrodynamics - Professor Paramekanti was extremely lazy. The last problem set was assigned on the last day of class and consisted solely of several textbook questions. Furthermore, he spent around nine weeks covering electricity and like, three covering magnetism (in the words of my classmate: "We've spent so much time on E, when will we get to B?") Overall, the class was okay but I didn't learn much. Not much else to say about it. Rating: 5/10.

Quantum Mechanics I - I did not enjoy this class. The professor put in effort, but he was still not a great instructor. Classes moved too slow and did not feel "physical". Moreover, the marking scheme was just stupid. 50% of our mark was allocated to 5 problem sets, which consisted of 1-2 questions always confusingly-worded. There was no midterm for us to gauge our standing in the class. No contest: the worst class of the term. Rating: 2/10.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Four lines

10:30 pm on the bus.

I look at my reflection, catch my drooping eyes
see my dreams, my lies

this guilt's guttering my veins. This sadness washing over me
but a familiar beat's on my MP3

I've got money in my pockets,
I like the colour of my hair,
I've got a friend who loves me,
Got a house, I've got a car
I've got a good mother,
And her voice is what keeps me here.

This song, for me, has always been about taking a step back and remembering to be grateful for what we have, instead of what we don't have. Often in our society, the tendency and temptation is to keep wanting more, and more. And don't we all want more at times? Perhaps we want more money; perhaps we want to be more beautiful; perhaps we want to know that many people love us.

This stanza for me is a constant reminder of what I need to be grateful for. Jann Arden tells us that although she may not be rich, she has enough ("I've got money in my pockets"); she tells us that she may not be beautiful, but she at least has features that she loves ("I like the colour of my hair"). She tells us that out there, there is at least ONE person who loves her ("I've got a friend who loves me"). The number is important. So many of us get caught up in feeling that we have too few friends, but perhaps having one true friend is having more than our share. Jann, like many of us, is fortunate: she has shelter; she has transportation; she has a mother who, while not perfect, loves her.

Feet on ground
Heart in hand
Facing forward
Be yourself.

These four lines are four of the most important in my life, and by juxtaposing them Jann Arden made them so, so powerful. These are what they mean to me:
Feet on ground - We must stay practical and down-to-earth. Without a grounding in reality, we may not perhaps not be able to accomplish what we want to.
Heart in hand - We must stay in touch with our emotions. Emotions allow us to exist as more than bodily shells, and allow us to empathize, connect, and bring light to others.
Facing forward - We must focus not on the past and what can not be changed, but the future, and what can be changed.
Be yourself - We must not be afraid to express ourselves. "Be yourself" also reminds me of the joy we may often find in being single. We don't have to be "a couple"; we don't have to be "a boyfriend/girlfriend"; we don't have to be part of a group or partnership. We just simply have to be ourselves.

Jann Arden plays this song at the end of all her concerts, and for good reason. I myself play this song whenever I'm unhappy. It simultaneously humbles, yet lifts me at the same time. I'll never tire of that swelling feeling I get from hearing Jann repeat these four simple phrases.

Feet on ground... Heart in hand... Feet on ground... Heart in hand.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Poetry - Conscious or Emotional?

I went to a poetry workshop today. So you are probably thinking that I had lots of fun and felt extremely inspired and excited that I did. But I'll be frank and tell you that I didn't.

The workshop was very strange. I found myself surrounded by a lot of older women - upper-class, judging from their clothing, though that isn't to say there were no other guys. The poet who led the workshop, while nice, did not really have the same mentality to me towards poetry. She encouraged us to do exercises in free-writing and to not think about anything: we were to just tap into the energy of the words.

Now, I do agree that words have different types of energy. A word can have specific or variable rhythms, pitches, and sound; it
brings with it particular connotations, histories, and associations. However, that is precisely my problem with free-writing. I can't not think when I write poetry because I need to consider all these sounds and meanings and associations.

In my opinion, poetry needs to reveal itself to be conscious. If I just took a bunch of words, and slapped them into lines, I would not be able to say that I'm writing poetry. Perhaps it is just me, by the word "poetry" implies some sort of deliberateness, some sort of awareness in the sounds and the ways to play with words, and what I was doing today was just breaking things up into lines. (I guess you could do that if you were William Carlos Williams, but you could say interesting things about his use of meter). Honestly, I have enough of a problem calling a few of my works 'poems' because I don't feel like my use of language in those works is quite conscious enough.

Perhaps that is why I like rhyme so much -- because it gives the sense that the poet is aware of the sound, and that the poet is skilled enough to weave the rhymes into a meaningful pattern. Maybe I'm just more of a technical writer, and I don't mean I'm a science/engineering writer: I mean I enjoy using analyzing and using rhetorical techniques. Without rhyme, I feel lost. In fact, since I started writing again, all of my poems contain rhyme to varying degrees.

I think that "freewriting" just totally ignores the techniques that great poets have used in the past. I honestly don't think Shakespeare freewrote his sonnets; his metre is too regular for that. In the workshop, some of the women kept smiling serenely and nodding their head to everything the poet said, and in the back of my mind I just kept thinking "no... I don't really agree."

The workshop was just geared more towards people who wanted to open up their emotions and express themselves through an unfamiliar literary form. I don't have a problem with that. I did though start to feel sick in that room. The combination of the heat and the blatant emotionalism was getting to me. One of the upper-class women actually cried because she got so emotional. I didn't notice until she made a comment about how emotional the workshop was, and said "You guys saw me crying". Apparently she had transformed a line about life into a line about death. I know, I'm being really insensitive and cynical here. But I can't help it. I myself was starting to feel strangely emotional about nothing whatsoever and I just wanted to leave the room.

Is the role of poetry to capture overflowing emotions? Perhaps it can be. But at the same time, I also believe that the emotion in poetry has to be somehow controlled and reined in. There has to be enough skill present in the poem that I can believe that the poet is someone who I can trust knew what he or she was doing. Furthermore, everyone gets emotional at times, but I believe we have a responsibility to put that emotion to use. If we all just spewed out emotions and arranged them in lines and published them... then what good are poems? What is the poem's function in the world if it can't persuade, if it doesn't consider that there will be an audience, if it does not alter societal discourse in any way? What is the point of writing another poem when there are so many out there already?

I really don't think emotionalism and consciousness necessarily exist as two separate spheres. Indeed, I think the times at which I feel the most inspired to and capable of writing are when they act in tandem with each other: when I am consciously using metre, sound, language to express emotions, and when simultaneously I'm vividly emotional about this conscious experience. When I'm solely emotional, I don't write poems; I write diary entries. When I'm solely conscious, I don't write poems; I write flat, uninteresting lines.

I realize I do sound cynical, insensitive, and perhaps a bit judgmental and defensive. Also I do not want to deter or intimidate anyone from writing or enjoying poetry; however, in my opinion, there is a difference between being knowledgeable and humble about the techniques of poetry and completely ignoring them in favour of unbounded emotion. It is like saying anyone could paint a picture if they "looked to their heart for inspiration" - yes, everyone can do that, but it takes years, talent, effort, and luck to internalize an understanding of the elements of visual art and more to develop the technique and vision to employ them. To use another analogy, i could of course say that "everyone can do physics" but it takes years and years to get an intuition for the field so that one can make educated, well-supported hypotheses and create precise, accurate experiments.

Someone please comment and challenge my beliefs: I need an outside opinion. As for now, this is where my argument stands.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Time for a poem, I think. It's a little raunchy, though (but you can skip over it if you find it is not to your taste).

Shove my face
Against your groin.
Grind it in.
I want to
Taste mouthfuls
Of that coarse hair,
Breathe nothing
But your body

scent. Pungent
Yet warm, like
Incense, incense.
Your body is my
Altar; here I'll
Kneel, please,

Please: drag my skin
Onto your flesh
Those rippling
Flanks and muscles.
Drown me in
Your dew, that cocktail
Of spit and sweet sweet sweat.
Wipe my tongue
Across the trunk
Of your hardened thigh,
Tense in its release.

Pin my
beneath my back.
Thrust my
against your chest.

Intimacy isn't a held hand
or a hug or a kiss.
is what it is:
Power. Control.
What you
(in a white dress shirt, tight trousers, a gold-clasped belt, standing upright. the spitting
image of politeness: as not to offend others.

pretending to be the same so they don't doubt that you're sane. your friend sits across the
table. he's wearing a nice shirt and sweater and an eighty-dollar scarf. you give him a hug
but you barely touch. there is idle talk, trite laughter. the only things you touch are the
stainless steel forks and the droplets that have condensed on your glass of iced water.

you pay the bill. another forty off your till. the bills, the bills. you have no will. you catch a
headline. the government adding a stupid law. you have no power, control, nothing raw.
Don't normally have.
in history, have men ever been so isolated, so powerless
so controlled, so bound
so false?
But I will Offer
You these.

Shove it in then.
Don't kid. Don't lie.
You and I both know.
That love's not real.
This is.

~Me, Nov. 18. Poem inspired by Equus (the play).
EDIT on Nov. 20: Added some lines at the end and shifted around some lines.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


There are some days when I look at the things I've written and go "oh my god, that's so crappy. That's an awkward sentence. This sounds like shit. This is so cheesy. What the heck was I thinking?" And today is one of those days.

During these times... I feel very powerless and frustrated. Writing is the easiest and best way for me to express myself. I can't really speak well - even in regular speech I stutter - so I turn to writing. When I feel like I can't write, then what am I left with? I am consistently amazed at artists' abilities to share their emotions with the world: they are so brave. How do they do it? How did Dido feel releasing songs about her father's death?

Just writing this blog already feels so draining, and not a lot of people even read it. I secretly do think of deleting what I've written here sometimes, or fantasize (with pleasure) about ripping the sheets I've printed my poems on.

But perhaps what keeps people like Dido going is their belief that sincere emotion can and must be a powerful persuader in a logic-and-rationalism-obsessed world like today's.

I guess one thing I've always liked about my science courses is that there is no swoop of the heart when I realize your problem sets are being read, no tug of emotions when you deliberate whether or not a line you've written is sound. In a problem set, you are not expressing your own opinions, but your understanding of and your own slant on what the professor wants you to learn. But as I grow older, I realize that even science doesn't quite work this way at higher levels of study. When one moves on to a PhD thesis, one's research project does require a lot of intuition, and creativity, and personal thought; hence, it probably does become a self-conscious and emotional affair. The grad students I've met have been wholeheartedly immersed in their experiments, frustrated when a setback occurs, and delighted when they make progress. Moreover, one's thesis would be read by people experienced in the field and the scientific community is probably as harsh a judge as its literary counterpart.

No matter what field I pursue, people are going to be judging my work: so I mustn't use these feelings of self-consciousness and embarrassment and excuses for not following my dream. Undoubtedly I'm going to write some crappy poems or some laughable articles sometime in my life. I will just have to remember that one criticism or one bad piece does not make or break a writer. These feelings will have to be overcome and ignored in order to generate discourse in society. Unfortunately, there is no undo button in real life (at least not until Staples invents one), but if I'm too obsessed with perfection or pleasing other people, I won't get anywhere at all.

EDIT: Just got my first piece of feedback from another writer, ever. Wow, it really is quite unnerving. This is the first time I have gotten affirmation that I have some (no matter how little) kind of talent, at least, and am not blindly reaching for a finish line that I don't have the physical constitution to reach.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Song Analysis: Dido's "Grafton Street"

While listening to Dido's "Grafton Street" for the hundredth time on my way to school this week, I got the, uh, brilliant idea to try my hand at a song analysis, reflection, interpretation, and review. A true songwriter, Dido's lips are closed when it comes to her songs - she's stated that she doesn't want to rob her listeners of the opportunity to interpret her songs. Also, I've mentioned her songs before, but I don't feel like I've done them justice. So she is the perfect person to interpret.

Dido's Safe Trip Home is one of my favourite albums of all time. I have never heard a collection of songs so poignant, moving, and well-crafted. The first thing that might strike you about it is the cover - which depicts, in freefall over the earth, an astronaut: a white speck among the boundless black. I feel like this image was perfect for the album (though the person in the image is allegedly suing her for it). In this song, many of Dido's songs draw details from everyday mundane life, and her lyrics often find her forgoing an ambitious life for the comfort and joy of home and hearth ("I might have been a poet / who walked upon the moon / a scientist who would tell the world / I discovered something new / [...] / but among your books / among your clothes / among the noise and thoughts / I've let it go.") The other theme that runs through her album is death of a loved one - specifically, her father's death. The cover is ambiguous. It suggests that the astronaut is leaving the planet and departing into the emptiness of space... yet, simultaneously, it also suggests that the astronaut is approaching the blue, glowing Earth, and that he is on his Safe Trip Home.

Anyway, that's enough about the cover. Let's get into the song! (note that I am really bad at recognizing instruments, so you'll have to bear with me if I make a mistake :( )

Here's a video of her song:

The song opens a soft, chime-like melody, which is quickly joined by the drums. The timpani repeating a subtle, low-pitched motif (B - D - B - D - E, though sometimes the notes switch up) which gives the song a tribal ambiance. Over the beat and this motif, Dido's voice glides and we hear a Celtic-influenced melody in the natural E minor scale. The song title, "Grafton Street", is in fact one of the main shopping streets of Dublin (Dido's father was Irish). The absence of a leading tone in the scale means that the melody does not generally have an obvious direction to resolve in. This helps to establish a subdued, elegaic mood.

The first two stanzas of the song have the same syntactical structure, as well as the same melody (with slight variations):
No more trips to Grafton Street,
No more going there,

To see you lying still while we all come and go.

No more watching sunsets, it seems
Like summer’s holding on.
And no more standing quietly at your window.
The third line evokes the image of a person (who we can infer, quite confidently, is her father) not being able to move from a bed. The speaker is reminiscing about the things she used to do with her father - having trips to Grafton Street, seeing the sunset together, watching him from his window. The rhyme between go and window is subtle but effective.
No more driving down your road
Wondering when you’ll be home.
And no more peace when they all leave and leave us two alone.
The initial downward arc of the melody changes in the 3rd stanza. Instead, the melody rises upwards. This change is accompanied by crescendoing strings in the background; both evoke a sense of swelling emotion. In the lyrics, Dido continues her use of the anaphora, starting her lines with "No more...". This suggests an insistent, grieving pattern of thought; it also underscores the swelling in the music. The image created by the last two lines feels haunting and real: the image of other people ("they") leaving Dido and her father alone so that they can share a heartfelt, father-to-daughter moment.
And time we always lose... is finally found here with you.
My love, I know we’re losing, but I will stand here by you.
These two lines form the chorus. The first line, I think, shows us that the speaker feels that any time spent with her father is infinitely worthwhile. The next line, "My love, I know we're losing, but I will stand here by you" has got to be one of the strongest declarations of loyalty and love that I've ever heard sung in music. These powerful lyrics and joined by vocal harmony, more powerful strings, and - softly, in the background - the meandering, wandering melody of a recorder.
No more calling friends from the car
saying “I don’t know when
I’ll be there but I’ll do my best to come.”

No more letting you warm my hands,
No more trying to take it in.
And no more saying goodbye for the last time again,
And no more saying goodbye for the last time again.
The verse's melody returns, accompanied by an insistent rhythmic figure in the double bass. The strings also feature in this section, creating smooth, swelling harmonies. In the lyrics, the use of the anaphora continues as the speaker reminisces about forgoing meetings with friends so that she could take care of her dad (the first three lines). She also tells us that she is unable to say goodbye again for the last time to her father - as he has already passed away. Yet, "goodbye for the last time again" is the only line in the song that she sings twice consecutively. The juxtaposition of this repetition with her inability to repeat this line to her father this intensifies the feeling of pain and loss in the song.
And time we always lose... is finally found here with you.
My love, I know we’re losing, but I will stand here by you.
The chorus returns, along with the vocal harmonies and the recorder. After this, an instrumental interlude follows, made up of an agitated, rhythmic woodwind melody. After several bars, the recorder joins the woodwinds, its high melody soars over the other instruments. The interlude reaches a cadence on the dominant (a minor chord, since we are in the natural minor scale).
No more trips to Grafton Street,
No more going there,
No more sitting up all night, waiting for any word.

Nothing’s left that’s safe here now,

Nothing will bring you home
Nothing can bring us the peace we had in Grafton Street.
The first line and the verse melody returns, punctuated by loud plucked notes on the strings. The absence of the drums evokes a feeling of sparseness. On the third line the drums return as she tells us about "sitting up all night, waiting for any word", which means perhaps she was not able to sleep at nighttime because she was waiting for the hospital's call.

On the last verse the anaphora changes. The beginnings of the phrases morph from "No more..." to the more absolute "Nothing...". "Nothing's left that's safe here now / Nothing can bring you home", the speaker says. The speaker now feels afraid and alone in the world; she knows that she is now powerless in providing her father comfort and love. The speaker concludes the vocal portion of the song with one last reminiscence of the trips she spent with her father on Grafton Street.

A long instrumental passage follows. At first, only strings and the drums can be heard, playing harmonies that reach lower and lower pitches. Then the recorder once again repeats its wandering melody, as the strings swell in response to it. Eventually, the drum fades. The strings and the recorder play together for a while; then the the strings die out one by one, leaving the recorder to play its final, haunting E.

One cannot help but think that had her father heard this wonderful and heartfelt tribute to him, he would've had the utmost pride in his daughter. This is without doubt one of the most poignant, poetic, and personal songs I have ever heard and I will carry its wisdom and sentiment with me when I grow up and inevitably experience some losses of my own.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I met a poet

On a whim I went
to the lit committee's
event tonight.
I met a poet.

He started in science. Like me.
He took ENG201
with Professor Reibetanz
"Don't rush." This was
Professor Reibetanz's advice, to him.
and loved it. Like me.
Of course, it was a whim
so I was wearing a shirt
with some dirt on it.
But then he arrived late,
so I felt a bit better
about the stain.

He read from his poems.
I was intrigued.
There were a lot of
Hello? Can you hear me?
interruptions. And lot of
play on the words
you and I.
There is no synonym for you.
I looked at his book.
He wrote a sonnet
with computer loading symbols
interspersed between
words and sometimes syllables.
I wanted to read it.

I talked to him then.
He asked if I wrote.
I said I stopped for a while
but started again.

In his poetry book was
a poem called Etude in E Major
(the one by Chopin).
I told him I just played it last summer.
Anyway this can hardly be
called a poem. I'm en-
jambing lines when-
ever I feel like it. But forget
that all. I met I met

I met a poet.


Living in a media-saturated world is just so exhausting. Honestly. Sometimes, when I read TheStar or The Globe and Mail, I am amazed at the amount of stupidity that exists. I remember coming across an article on the G&M about a new research study that came out that "discovered" that television was making kids more distracted. Why stupid studies such as these ones exist is beyond me. Then there are the exercise more/lose weight articles. Reading Men's Health depresses me because of all the "Get abs!" articles they recycle. Reading many women's magazines depresses me because of all the shallow advice they give... as well as all the make-up advertisements. The world is superficial enough.

And the relationship columns. Today someone asked a column writer on the the G&M whether or not they should consider having a threesome. They both wanted to try it, but they were probably just insecure. The column writer was like "Well, I can't control what you do it in the end, but just be careful, it might ruin your relationship". Or that was the gist of it, anyway.

You know what that means! Time for Timmy to go off on a tangent about sex for the millionth time on this blog! I don't really think a threesome that all parties want ruins a relationship. I think what it can do, if it goes wrong, is bring issues such as lack of trust, respect, and communication into attention. Because if respect and openness were deeply entrenched relationship in the first place, there's no reason why having a threesome would change that. It is not as if your life undergoes such a drastic change that it can be divided up into "before threesome" and "after threesome" portions. If only one person in the relationship wanted to try a threesome and were trying to persuade/manipulate the other person into going for it, that would be a different story. There is so much irrational sex-negativity in the media.

I did, though, see a comment that said, "Life is too short to let fear and insecurity get in the way of exploring your desires. Have fun tell us how it goes." So I guess there is some hope. But mostly, there's a lot of group-thinking going on in the comments and it makes me kind of sad because I feel like the media kind of enforces this conformist world. The media shapes the subjects we think and talk about, and frames the ways we think about them.

In contrast, the arts, in which free expression is encouraged, is not really noticed by a lot of people. There seems to a decline in the appreciation of literature (especially poetry) and music in favour of (often shallow) radio-ready pop music, which is worrying. I try to be open to different modes of expression, and different genres of literature and music; I wish that others would do the same.

Which is not to say that "art" does not have its problems. "Classical music" and "literature" and "art" can seem like ivory tower categories--only accessible and enjoyable to the people who are privileged (i.e. rich and snobby) enough to have learned about their nuances. I get that. But at the same time, it is important to have an open mind to them. and not judge it by its genre.

Anyway I enjoy many other "common" (or considered less "artful" the academic world) genres ranging from country music to electronic/dance to pop to Pokemon music and I can see their merits all the same. Not to sing my own praises, but the important thing is not to limit oneself by saying "I don't listen to anything other than pop", and to judge a piece of music not by its genre but by its technique (whether musical or rhetorical), innovation, intent, and emotional intensity.

Come on world, stop this closed-mindedness, stop this group-thinking! (Though you can keep having group sex if you want *ahem*)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Not Inferior, Not Indifferent

There's been a string of gay teenagers committing suicide lately. Which makes me really troubled.

The truth is that gay teenagers feel an isolation that perhaps not a lot of people can imagine. They can't come out to their parents in fear of being thrown out of the house; they can't talk to their friends because they're afraid that they would be humiliated and their sexuality revealed to everybody else.

Those crippling feelings of isolation that I used to feel back in high school... I've kind of blotted it out of my mind. And I'm afraid I will forget how hard it was. I've been enjoying the joy of living an open and "out" life. I've been more confident than ever and mostly happier. But I'm in a privileged position as well. I have understanding parents - perhaps more understanding than many can hope for. I'm lucky enough to have an amazing friend who accompanied me to two Pride Parades, despite not being LGBT, and who constantly gives me me courage to speak up. I'm lucky enough to have a friend fun and accepting enough to accompany me to a gay club.

Living this life, and constantly feeling myself growing farther and farther away from that hole (no, not that kind of hole) I was stuck in during high school, it's very easy for me to become blasé about the lives of other people. But I can't forget... I can't forget that there are people out there who are still in need.

I know a lot of people who volunteer for LGBT initiatives. I can only hope to be as brave as them one day. Right now... I know myself to be arrogant and selfish. I'm afraid of being reminded of the feelings I had in high school and I do everything I can to avoid them. And no matter what, I'm still pretty introverted. Though I have forced myself to talk to more people last year, I can't really seem to break out of my shell. When I'm surrounded by a lot of people I tend to just withdraw. But then again: these aren't excuses for inactivity or indifference. We can't give up. Not now when we've come so far.

In my History of Sexuality class, I read a paper arguing that sexual behaviour is akin to class and race and other social ways of organizing power in our society. In times of social crisis, people at the bottom of the sexual ladder are often scapegoated; this may include: gays or lesbians with more than one sexual partner, transsexuals, transvestites, fetishists, sadomasochists, people in the sex work industry, "those whose eroticism transgresses generational boundaries" (my textbook's words), etc. They receive less institutional support and economic sanctions, and less protection by the law. Moreover they may be thought of by the medical/psychiatric community as being "insane" or "criminal" or somehow emotionally or morally inferior.

I don't know how our world got so warped this way and how people can allow their penchant for hate and control to classify people in this way. There is simply one principle that you need to understand: what works for you does NOT necessarily work for others. Just because you feel like you have to be monogamous, does not mean that this is the best option for everybody. Just because you don't like being tied up/don't like being peed on/having your feet licked/having sex in leather etc., doesn't mean nobody does. Why must some people mistake their sexual preferences for universal laws that apply to all of mankind, throughout all cultures, throughout all the ages?

I've been thinking. In my last post, I said that I felt like I couldn't pursue public initiatives. But I can write well. I can fight for change, in my own way.
I will use my writing and push for social change.
I will help increase LGBTQ visibility as best as I can, and reach out to youths and adults through my writing.
I will fight against sexual discrimination of all forms.
And that's why... that's why I have to leave the sciences.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Strip away the Tuxedo

I am enjoying History of Sexuality course and it is pretty laidback so far. The readings, while short, are pretty thought-provoking. Last week, we read a paper by Halperin that said that by treating "sexuality" as a part of our identities that have always existed, we are being historically inaccurate. As justification, he cited the sexual hierarchy of the Greeks. In ancient Athens, there were two classes of people: citizens (men) and non-citizens (women, children/youths, slaves). Sexual practices in Athens occured between a citizen and non-citizen, whether the non-citizen was a woman or a boy, and the citizen was always the penetrative one. There was no usage of the terms gay/straight/homosexual/heterosexual, nor did the Greeks find anything inherently different if a citizen preferred to have sex with boys instead of women - it was an accepted practice. Their sexual practices were simply a manifestation of the way Athenian politics were set up and were in no part constitutive of their identity. In our current society, it's the opposite: our sexual practices are seen to affect our politics and our identity.

Reading Halperin's paper did make me think. Why do we view sexuality as a core part of our identities? When I meet someone, I almost immediately tell them "I'm gay". Why is it so important that it is one of the first things I tell them?

For instance, I frequently feel very out of touch with the with the gay community. Maybe it's my introverted and ruminative nature, but I feel distant from others I've met who are very active in uniting the queer community and countering homophobia and prejudice. (That is not to say that I feel like their work is unimportant—of course not!)

Moreover, I don't think "I am gay" even fully describes my sexual desires and practices, nor does it fully define my idea of love or romance. In fact when I first discovered that I was gay, I didn't even use that word. I told my friend "I think I don't like girls". But maybe over time, I have chosen to take on the gay identity when it is necessary. After all, it would be very frustrating to have had to tell my parents "I partially identify as gay, though I think of myself as gay basically I want to make a political statement". Besides, saying "I'm gay" is basically the most energy-efficient way of telling people and that 1) I'm looking for a male partner and that 2) I like to subvert the norm.

But is being gay really an important part of my identity? In the past I've sometimes thought that coming out to myself was the defining moment in my life—that it made me see things that I was unable to see before, that I was finally "becoming my true self" somehow. But maybe it's not the gay identity that helped me to do this; maybe at that moment I simply realized the cultural constraints that were embedded inside me, and subsequently I resolved to subvert these society norms and that helped form my identity. After all, as an aspiring writer, I really want to create something new and challenge people's perceptions of different forms and ideas. So I think having my own way of thinking and doing things is more important to me than being gay and that in a way, I identify as gay because it helps identity of being contrary to the norm.

Recently there have been a few things going on that just makes me feel not exactly depressed, but... a bit blue. It's the same feeling as the one I was feeling before; so many things are going on that I cannot change and have no control of. For instance, at the end of my sexuality classes, I start thinking about how there are so many other ways of viewing ourselves, but many of us are stuck in thinking with just one way. I really do wish that more people could view gender and sexuality as being more fluid, and perhaps as something that might not even be a fundamental part of us.

I sometimes think about all the guys on craigslist claiming that they're straight, yet seek a guy to fool around with... (there are MANY. If you don't believe me, go to the "men for men" section on Craigslist.) Somehow it hurts, to see them vehemently declaring that they are straight, to imagine them locking up their truest feelings in favour of living a "normal life". If only we could just totally strip away this notion of being "straight" or "gay".

I've been listening to LeAnn Rimes' CD, Family, lately. In one of the songs, she sings
"I will learn to let go of what I cannot change.
I will learn to forgive what I cannot change.
I will learn to love what I cannot change,
but I will change, I will change
whatever I, whatever I can."

And so I will learn to let go of what I can't change. I tell myself that when they—those guys—grow older, they will discover that they don't need to label themselves and don't need to conform to what they perceive the norm to be.

After all, when they stand at the altar in a tuxedo with hundreds of people looking up to them, maybe they'll feel that there's some discrepancy between what they're expected to live up to and what they can do. Maybe they will discover that they cannot keep hurting themselves and the people around them, and that something is missing from their lives. I can only hope.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Went to the Queer Orientation Meet and Greet yesterday.

I felt a bit awkward. Maybe it was because I was too tired, or maybe it's just the nature of these kinds of events. Then again, awkwardness is my middle name, so no surprises there. In any case, I was talking to a group of four guys in the room. One of them was a CompSci major and the other was an engineering major, and the CompSci major said something to the extent of, "Oh, when I first saw you, you looked really lost, and I was wondering what you were doing in the room since you looked like a very heterosexual male. Not to say that you're not welcome here since we're very open and welcoming." The hell?

The other guy replied, "Well, it's complicated." We then somehow veered to the topic of religion; the engineer said he was Catholic and then the CompSci major started challenging his religion and asking him about his stance and abortion. The CompSci major was like, "Well I can't respect people who don't speak up."

I just turned around and went to talk to other people because there'd already had a big debate on Sunday, for SEC training, and I was tired of feeling tension in the room. Honestly, I am all for speaking out and sticking up for your beliefs, but the engineer wasn't even pushing his beliefs onto others; he had the courage to come to an LGBTQ event and was clearly searching for his identity and his place in the sexual spectrum, but instead got interrogated about his religion and his perceived "ungayness".

I did meet a lot of cool people though, so I'm happy about that. Saw Bryan again and met some of his friends as well :).

I'm also happy about my poetry class, which is really shaping up. We read two poems in class today. When my Prof reached the last word of the poem, the hairs on the back of my neck started standing up.
This is Just to Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

--William Carlos Williams
Looks like poetry and I are going to have a good relationship this term.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


I found out yesterday that a childhood friend of mine died. She lived really close to me.

I... don't know what to say... especially because I know that her family must be going through so much pain and grief at the moment. But my lack of power eats at me. When I hear something as unexpected as this, what can I actually do? I'm powerless...

Dear Amy,
I'm sorry if I was ever mean to you... I know I probably was when I was younger.
Remember how when we were younger we'd always joke around? You'd always call me "somebody" and I'd nickname you "nobody"? Well, I was wrong, you weren't a nobody and I'm the biggest jerk in the world for having called you that. You were always so kind to me and I am sure your kindness touched many people.
I remember the week my mom went back to Hong Kong, my sis and I were at your house and we'd watching VeggieTales and have pillow fights by the staircases, and play Mario on your GameBoy. We watched VeggieTales so many times that we memorized the lyrics to their songs. I'll miss those times.
I remember seeing you periodically in the library at ACCI, reading. You'd say hi and we'd talk a bit and then get back to studying or reading. I'm sorry I didn't get to know you better.
I'll miss your sincerity and your smile...
Godspeed and rest in peace, Amy.

In my poetry class on Thursday, my Professor told me that she still remembered the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She walked into her class and told them "I'm sorry... I'm really not ready to give a lecture, and I really don't know why I'm here at the moment."

Some students raised their hands and said, "Professor, we know why we're here. We want you to read us some poetry." Her students' words were what brought her back to her senses, and together they began to read some poetry.

They wanted their worlds to be reconstructed after they had been shattered so abruptly. And my Prof argued that poetry does not necessarily represent or reflect the real world ("Universe"), but instead recreates it and sheds to us light and energy.

And although I know I am not as affected by Amy's death as people who were closer to her, I feel somehow shattered. Powerless, in the face of what I know others have to face. Today, I went to SEC training and there was a speaker on oppression, and I started feeling so powerless as well -- there are so many factors and complexities surrounding oppression, how can it ever stop? And I started thinking about how I am probably pretty well off financially; I feel so powerless when I think of how my best friend is always struggling with money.

Like my Prof, I don't know why I'm here, either. I don't know why I continue on with school and I don't what I am to do afterwards. I just hope that I will have enough power to change things, to change lives. But at the same time I can't help thinking that I would ever have the power to change something like this. Right now, I feel hopeless.

So, dear world, read me some poetry,
And, dear poetry, rebuild my world,
recolor my light.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

History of Sex Class

I just attended my last class, History of Sexuality. It was so awesome.

Here's a survey of the words that came up in the class at least once: fucking, sucking, shooting his load, ejaculating, cum, porn, vagina, arousal, breasts, kink, fetish, foot fetish, masochism (mm, hot), fantasy, masturbation, gonads (lol), libido, perversion, power exchange, incest, monogamy, autoeroticism, voyeurism, stripping, barebacking, etc.

In other words, this is my type of course. Besides, we're reading Lesbian smut in class as a text. LESBIAN SMUT! I'm gay, but still. SMUT!

The prof is hilarious, young, cute, and an engaging speaker. Here are rough quotes:
"The McGuinty government canceled their newly proposed sex ed curriculum because people were afraid that two-year olds were going to turn into kinderwhores."

"Cultural norms often dictate what legitimate sex is. A couple can talk to their grandparents or any random person and say 'We're trying to have a baby', which explicitly means that they are having unprotected sex, and the man is putting his penis inside her vagina, entering her, ejaculating in her, whatever, and their act will be seen as a wonderful and beautiful thing. If a man tells the same someone that his boyfriend slept over last night, that person might already say 'Too much information'. Not to mention that if they had unprotected anal sex, people would frown down on it and call it 'barebacking'."
The Prof then started a bit of the course material, which was about Freud. Freud argued that when children are potty-trained, they are TAUGHT shame and humiliation, and learn how to repress their desires. They learn that civilization is based on repressing and without holding pleasure. Or, in my Prof's words, "Children are not born with shame. Children shit when they're in a room with 10 other people and then they laugh about it."

This is interesting, because I feel like our society is so governed by shame at the moment. My friends always tell me to be fearless, but I'd go one step further than that. Be shameless. Don't be ashamed of anything you are, feel, do, or think. Don't be ashamed of your body, voice, movements. Don't be ashamed of your desires, no matter what they are. (Of course, I wouldn't go as far as shitting in the lecture hall or something, but you know what I mean.) Shame is taught. We can sever most of our ties with it, everyone.

Honestly, the most refreshing lecture I have sat in in a while.

I forgot to mention though, today I had many "facepalm moments".

First of all, the guy I sat beside in poetry started telling me about poetic terms. Oh, please. I do not care that you were from an IB program. Don't tell me about how much you studied over the summer. Do you have hobbies and a life?

Also, in Quantum Mech I had the biggest facepalm moment ever. The course has one tutorial and you either sign up for the 2 pm or 3 pm session, but some people had conflicts. The Prof said, "Who has conflicts with a tutorial session at both 2 pm and 3 pm? Would you still have a conflict if I added a tutorial session at 4 pm?" A guy raised his hand and said "Sir, I would have a conflict but I can still make the 3 pm session."

...Whoever thought physics majors were smarter than English majors in general obviously didn't know very many physics majors.

Afterwards, went to the TBA audition, which was horrible. Let's not talk about it. However, around the audition area there was this cute guy from UTM, first-year commerce; his name was Charles, he was wearing a red cap, T-shirt and shorts, think he was from Hong Kong. He was cute and he had these beautiful shoulders. No, I'm serious. He was skinny but his shoulders were angular and they just looked really nice. Wish I asked for his number, or Facebook. Hope he never reads this though.

EDIT: Apparently, this post led to my blog being blocked from access at the Physics computer labs...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

First Day of School

I know I shouldn't judge my classes/profs based on first impressions, but I will anyway. It's way too fun.

Partial Differential Equations - The prof had a small accent, but she still talked quite well and seems to be an engaging prof. Not much to say about this course, went through a bit of review ("What is a PDE?" etc.)

Classical Electrodynamics - The prof speaks fast but is actually... quite cute (though he is a young guy in physics, and for some reason I find a lot of young physicists quite cute). He spoke pretty quickly and ended the class thirty minutes early; I somehow feel that it might have been because he didn't really prepare for the first lecture. I mean, he could've easily started reviewing material from second year, or even just vector calculus. Still, looking forward to this class.

Biography and Autobiography - I actually enjoyed the first lecture quite a lot. The prof asked "Who are biographies written about?" and "Who are not written about?" which I found interesting. After some discussion in class we concluded that biographies are written about people who are somehow "different" and stand out (celebrities, political figures, artists), and/or valuable to society (or the opposite, e.g. murderers). Biographies are NOT written about the average working person. Why? Because 1) there is no market for it, since people aren't interested in reading the life of an average person, and 2) the average person's life is not really well-documented. She said that when approaching biographies, people unconsciously consider current cultural norms and social values. For some reason both these points kind of nagged at me. The class seems laid-back/easy, and the grading scheme kind of sketchy (got the easiest assignment ever; it's worth 5%), but it will be interesting to see what else she has to say during the year. I was thinking of replacing this course with Complex Analysis, but I'm leaning towards not replacing it now. But I'll wait until Wednesday, when I attend Complex Analysis, to decide.

Reading Poetry - The prof spoke quite slowly. She also said "the only kind of person who should be taking this course are English majors and specialists" which I felt was really biased. With people caring less about literature these days, she should be happy if people in other fields want to broaden their education. I'm sure the physics department would let anyone take their courses if they were interested. She also kept trying to tell the class how to learn, which was annoying. We're in University now; we either know how to study or ought to figure out ourselves how to study. The grading scheme seems kind of sketchy (20% for an in-class essay? Really? Is sketchiness a criterion for the grading schemes of English courses?), but getting to know more poetry is one of my goals, so I'm going to try to stick this course out and hopefully she won't drive me crazy. Hopefully the increased exposure to poetic forms and poems will be enlightening enough.

Quantum Mechanics - The Prof was like, scarily thin. He also rambled quite a bit and went off on random tangents. He taught quite slowly, yet by the end of the class Cassie and I were both confused. I hope this will turn out to be a good class, but so far all the other ones seem more engaging...

One more class to go; I'll edit it in here when I've attended it. So far, so good, considering my lost faith in education in general (what I have I actually learned in the last two years? Like, nothing...). All my classes seem pretty laid-back this year. I feel like I might even have a little too much free time. Maybe I could get a job again... but then I'd be so stressed.

Oh yeah, I also went to the Onoscatopeia (Hart House Jazz Choir) open rehearsal. We sang Billy Joel's "The Longest Time" and this song with weird harmonies called "Smile". It was really fun. For some reason when I sing in a choir I feel validated; I just feel like I'm part of a group and that I'm part of something greater. But I'd have to make the club to continue with the meetings. I don't know if I am good enough. I recorded myself singing and I didn't sound that good; plus, there are only 18-20 spaces so it's really competitive. I want to get in but realistically (I'm not being pessimistic, I'm usually optimistic!) I know I probably won't.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

yes is a pleasant country

yes is a pleasant country:
if's wintry
(my lovely)
let's open the year

both is the very weather
(not either)
my treasure,
when violets appear

love is a deeper season
than reason;
my sweet one
(and april's where we're)

-e. e. cummings

Reading List

My goal is to read or reread at least 25 books by the end of summer. I might write reviews or reflections on some of these books. Wish me luck!

1) The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood (Jun. 28 - 30)
2) Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic - Alison Bechdel (Jul. 1 - 4)
3) A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin (Jul. 5 - 9)
4) Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood (Jul. 9 - 12)
5) Watchmen - Alan Moore (Jul. 12 - 15)
6) Who Do You Think You Are? - Alice Munro (Jul. 16 - 21)
7) Intuition - Allegra Goodman (Jul. 22 - 28)
8) The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood (Jul. 28 - Aug. 2)
9) The Color Purple - Alice Walker (Aug. 7 - 9) 
10) Cathedral - Raymond Carver (Aug 17 - 20)
11) Morning in the Burned House - Margaret Atwood poetry (Finished Aug. 21)
12) Troll: A Love Story - Johanna Sinisalo (Aug. 29 - 30)

My Family and Other Animals - Gerry Durrell
Selected Poems - e. e. cummings, edited by Richard S. Kennedy
Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing - Margaret Atwood
Ariel - Sylvia Plath

Want to Read
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Moral Disorder - Margaret Atwood
Such a Long Journey - Rohinton Mistry
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
His Dark Materials trilogy - Philip Pullman
The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
Lord of the Rings trilogy - J. R. R. Tolkien
The Call of the Wild - Jack London
Hamlet/Macbeth - Shakespeare
The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano
Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
What We All Long For - Dionne Brand
Downtown Canada: Writing Canadian Cities - Justin D. Edwards, Douglas Ivison (editors)

Books that I have started, but am taking an indefinite break on
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Close Range - Annie Proulx

Short Stories/Pieces that I want to read
"The Dead" - James Joyce
"A Field of Wheat" - Sinclair Ross
"The Second Strongest Man" - David Bezmozgis
"Wedding Gift" - Thomas Randall
"Bread" - Michael Crummey
Descarte's Discourse

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Songs that Touch Me

I've been meaning to make a post about song lyrics for a while now, but I've never got around to doing it.

A lot of the pop songs out on the radio these days are, frankly, pretty terribly written or engineered or performed. But there are bits and pieces of poetry in some pop artists' pieces, and I find that these songs invariantly end up being the ones that move me the most...

One such artist is Jann Arden. Not all of her songs are good, but there are some gems in there. "If You Loved Me" is one of these gems. Unfortunately, I can't find a YouTube video of it, but here are some lyrics from the bridge, which is my favourite part. The music is really needed to complete the effect though.
I would clench my hands
and hold my breath
and promise to be true

I would never speak
I’d hardly eat
I would not cost a cent

I would watch you sleep
and count your sheep
and lie beside the bed

I would never think
I’d pour your drink
I’d laugh at every joke you tell
I love this part of the song. It captures perfectly all the yearning, selfless feelings that sometimes accompanies love - wanting to take care of someone ("I would watch you sleep and count your sheep"), wanting to please him or her ("I'd pour your drink"). Yet at the some time, there is something ridiculous and obsessive about the narrator's lines. Submission may accompany selflessness. We see it here in her claims ("I'd hardly eat, I would not cost a cent." or "I'd would never think"), and we worry that she will lose herself. She doesn't sound like she has much self-esteem. But that's not surprising. Love may require, in turn, selflessness and submissiveness. And one can lose oneself in love.

Another one such artist is Dido. Now, Dido has been criticized for being a songwriter who writes "vanilla", slow, boring music that appeals only to older women. I think these are valid arguments regarding her first two albums, but not her third album. Her third album, Safe Trip Home, is filled with so much poetry that I feel compelled to return to it again and again. Also of note is the fact that she used only organic sounds for this album. Nothing is electronic and the arrangements are sparse but they are also subtle. A bit tribal, even. Listen to this song, about her father's death...

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sinking too Far

I just finished The Color Purple by Alice Walker, and I must say that it is a lovely and poignant book.

Upon reading Alice Walker's wikipedia page, though, I discovered that she had a daughter, Rebecca, with whom she'd become estranged with. The reason they'd become estranged with each other was, according to her daughter, was because Alice had put all her energy into helping Africa, and going to feminist meetings - so she ended up neglecting her daughter. Upon learning that her daughter had made her feelings about her uprising public, Alice resigned from the role of being a mother.

From The Times:
Walker had also joined the early feminist movement — Gloria Steinem is Rebecca’s godmother — and it was her politics, more than anything, that shaped mother-daughter relations. The so-called “first wave” feminists believed that housework was another form of slavery and that women did not have an innate need to nurture but had been conditioned into their subordinate role as wives and mothers through centuries of patriarchy.

“My mother is very ideologically based, and her ideology is much more important in many ways than her personal relationships,” says Rebecca.

When Rebecca became pregnant at 14, Walker wasn’t shocked: she calmly picked up the phone and arranged an abortion. “Her feminist thing was about empowering me to have an active sexuality and to be in control of my body, and that trumped any sense of boundaries,” Rebecca says.

Certainly, Walker believed that what she was doing was right. Leaving her teenaged daughter to “do her own thing” was a way of fostering Rebecca’s independence and avoiding inadvertently passing down patriarchal values.

[...] Towards the end of senior school, an ecstatic Rebecca showed Walker her offer letter from Yale. Instead of celebrating her daughter’s success in landing a place at one of the world’s top universities, Walker asked her coolly why she wanted to go to a bastion of male privilege.
Today, her daughter is a third-wave feminist. She has a son and writes often about the joy of motherhood.

When I discovered this, I felt afraid. Am I an ideologically based person as well? As a student of the sciences, I have often pondered whether science's emphasis on rationality was beneficial. I have sometimes thought that this emphasis on rationality restricts creativity and the development of new ideas. As well, I'm starting to believe in some opinions that could be considered radical. For example, I believe that right now, our society is still very sexually repressed, and I would like to break the taboo on speaking about it it. Also, I believe that right now, our education system is deeply flawed...

I have maintained that it is important to question what is currently assumed in society. But will the things I think and say form barriers between my friends/family and myself? Now I am afraid that, by actively pursuing my ideal world, I will drive them away. My mom, for one, doesn't really understand my obsession with talking about sex.

I am glad I am reading more these days, because I've had new thoughts - thoughts and opinions that I never had before. But I've noticed that I use books as a form of escape. I read when I feel lonely, and want to avoid dwelling on negative emotions and thoughts. The thing is: the lines between reality and fantasy are not always clear. I often apply an author or character's opinions to my own everyday life. How would I know to stop? How would I know when I've sunk too far, into fantasy?

Finally, this article also scares me because I do not know whether or not I have what it takes to be a parent. I am afraid that my "hippie" ways of thinking will somehow ruin my children's lives, if I do have any. I am proud of my sexuality, but sometimes I am somehow afraid that being gay makes me inadequate to be a parent.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Homage to Rorschach

Timmy's Journal. July 19th, 2010. 12:28 AM.:

Motivation dwindling at work recently. Still have not accomplished task. What to do next? Will have to do a presentation shortly. A bit worried. Would like job to end, but that means school starts soon. A bit excited for school, but nevertheless apprehensive about workload and stress. Referring to both academic and social stress.

Read Watchmen. Good novel. Will reflect in more detail later. Especially liked Rorschach. Interesting character.

Watched movie adaptation. True to novel, but quality nowhere near book. Still, enjoyed casting choices. Liked Laurie and Dan, but imagined Dan more nervous. Also wished Rorschach's voice were less hoarse.

Now reading "Who Do You Think You Are?". Collection of short stories by Alice Munro. Good read so far. Now in the middle section of the book. Rose falls in love with a different man every story. Good thing. Makes her life captivating. Book gets better and better.

Glad I made 25 books goal. Helps deal with loneliness. Feel like I rediscovered something I lost in childhood. In elementary school, used to read a lot of science books. All knowledge came from there. Nowadays, read less, so less knowledge.

Recently, been reading a lot. Gaining a different kind of knowledge. Start to remember now the diverse lives people lead. Perhaps in the past, have only seen things own way.

Still have trouble being empathetic and understanding. But this will help.

Timmy's Journal. July 19th, 2010. 2:44 PM.:

At work now. Professor asked "So, what's new?"

I said, "Nothing much." I've been stuck on experiment. Conversation left guilty feeling inside.

Getting tired of working in lab. Would like to stay home and read or write. Amongst other researchers I feel useless and powerless. They have large-scale experiments. They can brainstorm solutions to fix errors. I am not creative in the same way. No good with hands.

Friday, July 9, 2010

My New Perspectives On Physics

This summer, I've been working with Professor Morris of the Department of Physics. He is the head of the experimental non-linear physics group, as well as the Undergraduate Chair of the department.

I haven't used anything that I've learned last year in my lab. I've forgotten my calculus, the laws electrostatics, and everything remotely related to the word "quantum". Instead, I've traded in my prior physics knowledge for a lot of valuable perspective into the field. In particular, a few things that he said have stuck in my mind.

On Wednesday, during his seminar, he made fun of string theorists and high energy physicists. Professor Morris studies patterns in nature such as icicles or washboard roads or the patterns that syrup makes as it is poured. He said, "You don't have to go to the edges of the Universe to find beauty, and you don't have to go to the LHC. The type of beauty in icicles or washboard roads is the type of beauty that a 3-year old could watch and be fascinated by." In fact, the laboratory-grown stalactites did fascinate me and was the reason why I chose to work in his lab for the summer. I love his mentality and it reminds me of why I chose to major in physics in the first place. Amidst the research of Quantum Gravity and The Higgs Boson and The Behaviour of Gold Atoms at 2 K Under 5 atm, his studies of pattern formation are a breath of fresh air: ordinary, yet fascinating.

He said that, more often than not, string theorists try to fit the data into their theories, instead of their theories into the data. Perhaps, then, scholars of physics and English literature are not that different after all: they both see in their subject the things they wish to see.

Finally, he said "Physicists should be able to do things. If we were placed on an island, we should be able to build a BlackBerry in a given amount of time." That's an interesting take on the role of a physicist. Before this summer, I liked the idea of being a theoretical physicist, of playing with symbols in my head and somehow discovering their relationships. But Professor Morris's opinions must have affected me, because I no longer feel that way. I don't see how sitting in front of a computer playing with math would make me useful to society. I want to be able to do things too. I want to write. I want to express my opinions and inspire people and help change society.

My coworker told me to learn the Fourier Transform well. "It's the most important thing you'll ever learn." With my current career plan, I somehow doubt that this will be true - I doubt I'll need to Fourier transform my writing - but who knows?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A New Leaf

It is the night of my birthday dinner. Just a few hours ago, I was sitting at one of Starbucks' mahogany tables, drinking in the conversation and caffeine. But now the caffeine has worn off and the conversation ended, so my drowsiness is less diluted.

This summer, I've realized many things. The most important thing I realized is that, despite being a physics major, I still love writing and I still want to become some kind of writer in the future - and I know I won't rest until I do.

With the amount of free time I've had this summer, I've set many personal goals that I think will help me along my career path. I've started to read books again. I've started to read newspapers and keep myself updated on news concerning Toronto (though I've lived 15 years in this city, I realized I hardly know a thing about it). I've started to write again.

Perhaps I can draw a lot of inspiration from these other sources. I've been having lots of thoughts about what's been going on in the world recently.

This year, I learned that I must express myself. I am lucky. I am gay, and because of this, I've had to struggle and fight for what I believe in. I've had to struggle for my identity, and it's left me stronger than ever before. In the first two years of University, I turned away from the humanities because I was afraid. I was afraid that I "wouldn't have enough money to make a living" (my parents' words). I was afraid that my ideas weren't deep enough, or good enough. I was afraid of the imprecision of the humanities and sought refuge in the sciences, in which rationality is valued above creativity.

I am still afraid, to an extent. I not only believe, but KNOW, that there are people whose writing skills and creativity are light-years ahead of mine. But I also know that to succeed at my goal, I'll need to ignore these doubts and move forward. If I'm not creative enough now, I'll grow more creative later.

On this blog, I don't aim for perfect rhetoric or even logic. The purpose of this blog is just to get ideas down, so that when I want to write a story or poem or non-fiction piece or article, I don't start with nothing.

So expect to see a lot of quickly written poems, terse short stories, cliche metaphors, and badly-expressed thoughts. But hey, if I don't write anything, I'll never write anything good.

Of course, maybe I'm just being idealistic in my pursuits. But it's too early to tell, and it's too late to think. Good night!